Editorial: Will ConnectED catapult US toward higher educational standards?

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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Public schools in America are about to become more technologically savvy as of yesterday. 

Major tech and telecommunications companies are answering President Barack Obama’s challenge to equip public schools across America with improved tech products and high-speed internet for educational advancement.

The initiative is part of Obama’s ConnectED program, which intends to use the resources of private and public tech companies to bridge the gap between ailing public school districts and well-funded school districts and ultimately become more internationally competitive.

While this might bring public school districts nationwide into the modern digital age, it will not be enough to make the United States a leader in global education.

The initiative is lauded in large part because companies such as Apple, Sprint, Microsoft and Verizon are granting more than $750 million worth of services and funds to schools and students in need of modern technology and broadband Internet services. The Federal Communications Commission will also allocate $2 billion to the project, according to senior administration officials.

Apple, one of the contributors, will pledge more than $100 million worth of iPads, MacBooks and other products. Microsoft will add 12 million copies of Office software for schools free of charge, while Sprint will help 50,000 low-income students with fast-speed free wireless Internet. AT&T and Verizon, two of America’s largest telecommunications companies, will both pledge $100 million toward ConnectED.

Ideally, the resources and capital these companies pledge will help public schools that have limited or no access to such resources become more competitive with public schools that do have those capabilities. The technological aspect of this initiative will help students gain access to a world of information literally at their fingertips, broadening their educational prowess and preparing them to achieve at a higher level.

Realistically, teachers and administrators of public schools will have to ensure a smooth transition between traditional teaching ideals and the newer style of teaching by focusing on the transfer of traditional teaching’s original successes.

Namely, repetition of material, close student and teacher interaction and studying topics at a slow enough pace to optimize retention are integral components that technology might expedite. With the use of computer programs, apps and other pieces of technology, students might lose the personal interactions that emerge from teachers relaying the subject material. Moreover, teachers might be even more likely to assign more work per class, given that students have the capability to review the material in a more comprehensive, efficient medium.

South Korea, which exemplifies the implementation of such teaching strategies, has seen widespread success for having students learn material over extended attention, repetition and the like from teachers and hagwons—personal tutors of sorts. On the 2012 PISA math test, the mean score for a South Korean student was 70 points higher than for an American student.

While it seems beneficial for students to have access to technological advancement, school officials must ensure that the core tenets of traditional teaching aren’t forgotten. Technology in schools should be a complement, not a substitute.

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