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"We know, purely and simply, that every single child must have access to a computer, must understand it, must have access to good software and good teachers and to the Internet, so that every person will have the opportunity to make the most of his or hew own life."

President Clinton

Background

Technological literacy--meaning computer skills and the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity, and performance--has become as fundamental to a person's ability to navigate through society as traditional skills like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Yet, for the most part, these new technologies are not to be found in the nation's schools. Students make minimal use of new technologies for learning, typically employing them for only a few minutes a day. Indeed, the hard realities are that only 4 percent of schools have a computer for every five students (a ratio deemed adequate to allow regular use) and only 9 percent of classrooms are connected to the Internet. In schools with large concentrations of low-income students, the numbers are often even lower. Research and the experiences of schools in the forefront of the current "digital revolution," however, underscore the enormous learning opportunities available through technology.

The Technology Literacy Challenge

In explicit acknowledgment of the challenges facing the education community, on February 15, 1996, President Clinton and Vice President Gore announced the Technology Literacy Challenge, envisioning a 21st century where all students are technologically literate. The challenge was placed before the nation as a whole, with responsibility for its accomplishment shared by local communities, states, the private sector, educators, parents, the federal government, and others.

The challenge, however, is more than a vision. At its heart are four concrete goals that help to define the task at hand:

  • All teachers in the nation will have the training and support they need to help students learn using computers and the information superhighway.

    Upgrading teacher training is key to integrating technology into the classroom and to increasing student learning.

  • All teachers and students will have modern multimedia computers in their classrooms.

    Computers become effective instructional tools only if they are readily accessible by students and teachers.

  • Every classroom will be connected to the information superhighway.

    Connections to networks, especially the Internet, multiply the power and usefulness of computers as learning tools by putting the best libraries, museums, and other research and cultural resources at our students' and teachers' fingertips.

  • Effective software and on-line learning resources will be an integral part of every school's curriculum.

    Software and on-line learning resources can increase students' learning opportunities, but they must be high quality, engaging, and directly related to the school's curriculum.

Investing in the Challenge: Meeting the Cost

Many components add to the cost of getting up-to-date technology and training into classrooms across America. Among the most obvious are hardware and software costs; connections within schools and to the Internet; the initial training and long term support of teachers; and infrastructure improvements (such as increased electrical capacity). The difficulty, however, is arriving at reliable estimates of what it will cost to meet all four goals. One reason for this difficulty is determining how schools should ultimately be outfitted. Another difficulty is the varied levels of technology currently found in schools around the nation. Yet another reason is that the technology itself is rapidly evolving.

Despite such complex variables, some organizations have produced estimates based on various models and assumptions. One estimate puts the cost at $109 billion over 10 years, or an average of $11 billion a year, taking into account both initial investments and ongoing expenditures. Another estimate puts the cost at between $10 billion and $20 billion a year over a five-year period. Yet another puts the cost at between $10 billion and $12 billion a year over five years. To put this into perspective, schools spent about $3.3 billion on technology during the 1994-95 school year.

The conclusion that leaps from these numbers is that schools alone cannot meet their need. It will take a partnership of the private sector, states and local communities, and the federal government to shoulder the financial burden of meeting these goals. Additionally, it will take careful planning to make certain that, in our reach for technological literacy, schools in all types of communities--middle income, lower-income, and better-off communities--have access to up-to-date technology in their classrooms.

What We All Can Do to Meet the Challenge

The nation already has taken steps to integrate technology into schools, but what remains to be done looms large. While acknowledging the federal government's leadership role, the purpose of this report is to present a framework that states and local communities can use in developing local plans of action that will support the use of technology in achieving high standards of teaching and learning in all classrooms for all students. It will take contributions from all sectors of society to get America's students ready for the 21st century.

Federal Role

The federal government's role is to provide the momentum to support state and local efforts to meet the technology literacy challenge. This is done through leadership, targeted funding, and support for activities that will catalyze national action. Building on current educational technology activities, the president proposed the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund. Making $2 billion available over five years, the fund would spur states, local communities, and other involved parties to step forward, produce matching dollars and in-kind contributions, and cooperate with one another in attaining the four goals. Additionally, in its leadership capacity, the federal government will continue to promote affordable connections, to support professional development, and to conduct research and development.

State and Local Community Roles

Appropriately, a number of states and local communities have been the leaders in moving schools toward an increased use of technology for learning. States and communities can continue to take the lead in developing action plans based on their own priorities. They can distribute funds based on the needs of individual districts to promote equity among schools, and use existing educational funds in new ways. They can invest in technological infrastructure to connect schools to networks. And they can make a concerted effort to build community support.

Higher Education and Private and Nonprofit Sector Roles

Institutions of higher education, businesses, foundations, and other organizations will need to shoulder a large share of the effort to integrate technology into schools. And the push is already on. Collectively, businesses have developed technology specifically for the education market and have donated millions of dollars of resources to schools. Colleges and universities across the country are training teachers in the effective use of technology. Still, these kinds of efforts will have to be magnified many times over for the vision of technological literacy to be realized.

Conclusion

As advances in technology race ahead, we must ensure that the nation's students become technologically literate. Not to meet this challenge will mean that American students will only fall further and further behind. With reading, writing, and arithmetic, technology has become the nation's "new basic." Our children's future, the future economic health of the nation, and the competence of America's future workforce depend on our meeting this challenge.


The school has offered things to students, my son included, which I never dreamed possible. The students use computers to perform homework, to explore new avenues--the academic program here is unparalleled due to technology and the dedication of the staff.

--Parent, Presentation to President Clinton

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Last Modified: 08/23/2003