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U.S. ECONOMY > Technology > The Internet > Internet Communities Linking the World

Internet Communities Linking the World

Global Issues - Internet Communities

Education for the 21st Century:
Using Technology to Enhance Teaching and Learning

By Linda Roberts
Director, Office of Educational Technology
U.S. Department of Education

"All of our students deserve well-trained teachers, Internet access, and appropriate educational technology in order to help them learn, to help them get to college, and to help them succeed in 21st century jobs. To achieve this goal, we need to reach out to the poorest of the poor, which means working hard to provide equal access to a quality education. That is a key civil right for the 21st century."

U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley

When Secretary Riley made these remarks in a recent speech, he called on teachers, students, parents, and business people to build partnerships to advance the use of computers and the Internet for learning.

As U.S. educators and technology experts think about the classroom of the future, they see many new tools and possibilities, from e-books that carry literally limitless amounts of information to global classroom communities gathering scientific data in joint projects.

Ensuring that teachers and students in U.S. schools -- particularly those in rural and economically disadvantaged areas -- have access to effective technology has been one of the Clinton administration's major education initiatives since 1994. The passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was one of the first steps to help accomplish this goal. The act increased access to telecommunications by establishing the "E-rate." Also known as the Universal Service Fund for Schools and Libraries, the E-rate gives discounts on the cost of telecommunications services and equipment to all public and private schools and libraries. Since its enactment, the program has provided more than $4,000 million in universal service funds -- lowering the cost of access to the Internet for schools and libraries.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Education, the Urban Institute (a Washington-based research organization) conducted a study of the E-rate's implementation so far, finding that 75,000 schools, 13,000 school districts, and 4,500 library systems have applied for funding under the E-rate program to improve telecommunications equipment and services. The Urban Institute's analysis found that E-rate targeting works. The neediest schools were getting the most funds. According to the study, the poorest schools (those in which half their students were eligible for free and reduced-cost lunches) represented only 25 percent of public schools but received 60 percent of the funds.

That's only part of the progress. There's been more, as educators and policy-makers all over the country have come to the same realization about the imperative to incorporate the newest computer and communications technologies into the experiences of our students.

Developed with broad input from educators, academic experts, technology developers, and state business leaders, the U.S. Department of Education's National Plan for Educational Technology focused public, private, state, and local attention on educational technology for the first time. In response, every state has developed a plan to integrate the use of technology into instructional programs, to develop teacher training in these technologies, and to devise financing plans. In addition:

  • Between 1993 and 1999, the percentage of classrooms with Internet access grew from 3 percent to 65 percent. By the end of this year, 100 percent of schools are likely to be connected to the Internet and individual classroom connections will continue to increase.

  • In 1993, only 19 percent of the nation's poorest schools had Internet access. By 1999, 90 percent were online.

  • The percentage of teachers receiving professional development training in the use of information technologies increased from 51 percent in 1994 to 78 percent in 1998.

    With these achievements as a strong foundation, and with the passage of four years since the development of the first plan, the Department of Education is now revising its National Plan for Educational Technology. The use of technology in education has catapulted to the forefront of national interest, based largely on its ever-increasing influence on economic growth, and its potential to transform the teaching and learning experience.

Our priorities are clear:

  • All students and teachers will have universal access to effective information technology in their classrooms, schools, communities, and homes. Fostering learning anytime and anywhere requires the universal availability of the appropriate learning tools.

  • All teachers will effectively use technology. The need for training is ongoing and must not only be about how to use technology, but also about how to support student learning.

  • All students will be technologically literate and responsible cybercitizens. Understanding how to locate information, determine its relevance and accuracy, and then integrate it with other sources will be an ever-more important skill in a rapidly changing world.

  • Research development and evaluation will shape the next generation of technology applications for teaching and learning. The incorporation of technology into educational programs is not foolproof. It is critical that we know which methods are working and which are not as e-learning becomes a greater component of the instructional system.

  • Education will drive the e-learning economy. The delivery of educational and related services over the Internet could well become the next most significant innovation application of the Internet, so we must also foster innovation in learning techniques.
Information and computer technologies offer students multimedia, interactive capabilities, and access to knowledge and expertise located far from their classrooms. Technology must be an integral part of education reform, but technology alone is not sufficient. Just as important are high-quality learning resources and well-trained, dedicated teachers in every classroom. Only then can students make the most of the new technologies.

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