The United States’ image as a digital innovator does not match the level of high-tech educational opportunities offered in its classrooms.
Namely, millions of students lack access to the high-speed broadband Internet that supports learning digital technology. Furthermore, less than 20 percent of educators across the country say their school’s Internet connection meets their teaching needs.
While the nation was on the leading edge of web in the ‘90s, it has lagged behind as other nations invested in digital learning and technology education. Take for example South Korea, where all schools have high-speed Internet connections and all teachers are trained in digital learning. In fact, printed textbooks will be phased out by 2016.
It’s for this reason President Barack Obama last month unveiled ConnectED, a new digital technology initiative that in five years aims to connect 99 percent of America’s students to the Internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless. The idea is the Federal Communications Commission [FCC] will modernize and leverage existing programs to deliver the intended connectivity.
“For America to compete in the 21st century, we need to make sure all of our children and their teachers have access to the best learning technology,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said. “Over the last 15 years, the FCC’s E-Rate program has successfully helped bring Internet access to our nation’s schools and libraries, but basic Internet access is no longer sufficient.”
She added this is why the FCC has been looking at ways to further modernize the E-Rate program in the form of providing robust broadband in schools and libraries, especially those in low income communities.
Later this month the FCC Commissioners will meet to decide whether to act on the President’s digital technology initiative. However, a senior FCC official told VOXXI they expect consensus support for ConnectED, which has three goals:
• Upgrading connectivity
ConnectED will provide better broadband access for students in rural areas by expanding successful efforts to connect parts of the country that typically have trouble attracting investment in broadband infrastructure.
• Training teachers
Teachers need to be equipped with better tools to help them succeed. This includes new digital education tools that allow for real-time assessments of student learning and enable the creation of interactive online lessons and activities.
• Encouraging private sector innovation
Educational devices supported by high-speed networks give students access to more rigorous and engaging classes, new learning resources, rich visualizations of complex concepts and instruction in any foreign language. Leading digital technology companies are capable of producing feature-rich educational devices that are price-competitive with basic textbooks.
The impetus behind ConnectED is a 2010 FCC study showing schools and libraries reported slower Internet connective speeds than the average American home. Basically, the senior FCC official said the President’s proposal aims to ensure funds in the E-Rate program, which this year has a budget of $2.38 billion, are spent efficiently.
“The commissioner agrees we need to give school children different tools they need to compete in the 21st century and also keep the costs reasonable,” he said. “Technology moves on so the program has to as well. Like five years ago a large-scale deployment of this would have been expensive, but today the cost of wi-fi, tablets and ebooks has dropped off. That’s somewhere where the funds can be looked at and better used.”
He added, “We need to give school children different tools they need to compete in the 21st century and also keep the costs reasonable.”