Why Obama Can't Ignore Education Tech

Not only is it a proven way to generate significant economic benefits, the cost would be only a few drops in the bucket of his stimulus plan

For his book Grown Up Digital, author Don Tapscott surveyed or interviewed 10,000 young people from 10 countries about their reliance on technology. "I came to the conclusion," he said, "that technology is not technology to these kids. It's like the air."

As President-elect Obama and the new Congress develop a recovery package, they should leverage the pervasive power of technology and invest in education—specifically education technology—a proven way to generate significant, widespread economic benefits by preparing the workforce for tomorrow's challenges.

While the primary purpose of the economic recovery package will be to motivate job creation and the economy in a one-to-two-year period, it is equally as important to include measures that generate growth and prosperity for many years to come. A carefully constructed federal investment of $20 billion to $36 billion in education technology, in schools, can meet the short-term stimulus requirements and strengthen our economy for the long term.

Providing the Right Tools

School technology investments enable 21st-century learning and provide our current and future workforce with the tools they need to compete and succeed in our globally integrated world. To accomplish this goal, Obama's reported $850 billion Economic Recovery Plan should include two critical components:

1. Investments in school technology and broadband; and

2. Investments in home-to-school technology targeted at low-income families.

Specifically, the federal stimulus package should cover expenses for schools to install or upgrade Internet connections to broadband; hire technical and instructional technology support; and purchase or upgrade hardware, software, and services. And, the home-school investment should enable low-income families with one or more students to purchase eligible learning technology devices (computers, laptops, and other new devices) and educational software, as well as broadband Internet connections.

Short-term economic benefits of this strategy include:

1. Creation of jobs in the technology and telecommunications sectors;

2. School districts hiring technical and technology curricular staff (a vastly understaffed function today); and

3. Upgrading and retooling of school facilities and equipment (which is impossible in the current fiscal environment).

This strategy's greatest impact is that our children would receive an education that reflects the wider world, and would emerge from schooling "future ready" for higher education and our global economy.

An Example in Britain

Business and education leaders need to convince policymakers that this investment in education technology for schools and home connections is a no-brainer—a cost-effective and strategic investment in our future. Based on economic models from the Commerce Dept., we believe this spending would create 401,700 to 694,200 jobs in the U.S. and represents only 2.4% to 4.2% of the cost of the total recovery package.

Britain is already benefiting from investing in school technology and home-to-school technology and Internet connections. The British government put technology into the homes of pupils in the most deprived areas of England starting in 2005, and expanded funding for home Internet connectivity in 2006.

PricewaterhouseCoopers found that the British economy enjoys benefits of £2.05 ($3.05) for every £1 per pupil invested in technology for a three-year rate of return, including more employable graduates.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated, "As the larger return to education and skill is likely the single greatest source of the long-term increase in inequality, policies that boost our national investment in education and training can help reduce inequality while expanding economic opportunity."

Teaching 'Digital Natives'

We're pressing forward at SAS. In North Carolina the 1:1 Learning Technology Initiative provides laptops and online curricula to teachers and students at pilot schools in rural areas of the state. SAS, which has invested in this initiative by providing laptops for teachers, last week announced that Curriculum Pathways online resources are available to all schools across the U.S. at no cost.

At pilot schools, student engagement has increased, and discipline problems have decreased. At Hunt High School in Wilson County, the dropout rate dropped 42%. The outcomes are clear: When students have equitable access to 21st-century tools, they will be ready to enter a 21st-century workforce.

"We are teaching a generation of digital natives," said George Bischoff, who teaches at Nash-Rocky Mount Early College High School, a 1:1 laptop pilot. "How can we hope to prepare them for their ever more electronically integrated futures if we only use generations-old technology? How can we hope to keep their attention when their every waking moment involves the use of electronic devices? The use of computers in schools is the educator's best chance to 'get in the game.'"

We must prepare our children and our country for the future. This is an investment we can't afford to ignore.

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