President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit the Arctic Circle Wednesday when he landed at the remote 3,000-person village of Kotzebue, Alaska.
The president’s week-long trip to the Last Frontier has largely focused on climate change—Kotzebue is in danger of being wiped off the map due to the rising sea level—but in a speech Tuesday evening, he focused on something else that’s a high priority for isolated communities: access to technology for students.
“One of the initiatives I’m proudest of is something we call ConnectEd,” he said to a crowd gathered at Kotzebue High School. “It’s a program we started to close the technology gap in our schools and connect 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed Internet by the year 2018.”
The White House launched the ConnectEd program back in 2013, and has drawn financial support from numerous ed-tech providers and private organizations with the goal of improving digital education and Web connectivity. For instance, Apple, Microsoft, Prezi, Sprint, Verizon, and others have already pledged about $2 billion in goods and services to deliver cutting-edge technology into classrooms.
And Apple recently provided another $100 million worth of digital devices to low-income schools.
“If you want to see the difference this can make in a child’s life, look at Nanwalek, on Alaska’s southern coast,” Obama said. “It is remote. Like a lot of Alaskan communities, you can only get there by boat or by plane. But today, with the help of Apple, all 80 of its students, most of whom are Alaska Natives, now learn in classrooms with fast Internet, and iPads, and digital content.”
Kotzebue has also benefited from the program, using funding to expand wireless Internet and purchase a 3D printer.
“Most of these kids don’t have Internet at home,” Obama said. “But in the classroom, they’ve got the tools to compete with any child around the world.
“That’s great, because that’s what we want for all these kids,” he continued. “We want nothing less than the best. And as president, one of the reasons I’m here is to tell you that I’m behind those efforts. I want to make sure these young people know we care about them, and we’re fighting for them. “
The Obama administration has prioritized the expansion of technology in schools, and ConnectEd has been its signature effort, along with the E-rate program, which funnels money to schools and libraries to make telecommunications and information services more affordable.
But have the programs made a significant impact? Last year, my colleague Michelle Davis asked that very question and examined the administration’s various ed tech programs here.
The short answer for ConnectEd? While the White House has done a good job garnering billions in private sector investments, most of the money has yet to trickle down to teachers and students. Read more here.