President Barack Obama’s goal of once again leading the world in percentage of college graduates by 2020 is impossible without increased implementation of technology in education, said U.S. Deputy Director Steve Midgley today at the Virtual School Symposium in Indianapolis.
In a lunchtime keynote that he conceded was, in part, preaching to the digital choir, Midgley thanked digitally innovative educators, stressing that the administration understood the importance of their work.
“What you do and how you do it is really important,” said Midgley in the final moments of a roughly 30-minute address. “And there’s a lot of us in positions of power—for relatively short periods of time—who know it. ... I thank you for the effort you put in to that end.”
Midgley said hitting the president’s 2020 goal will take not only a drastic increase in graduation rates for children currently in the nation’s public schools, but also outreach to people who have already left the school system and do not have a college or even high school diploma. Increasingly, online coursework is viewed as a way to reach those students.
“The only way to hit that goal is to bring people back to the system and provide credentials,” Midgley said. “The only way we’re going to do that is with technology.”
Midgley, while soft-spoken, gave a speech that could be interpreted as a rally-the-troops pep talk meant to instill some faith from technology advocates that have at times wondered whether the Obama administration is as steadfast in support of technology as its rhetoric suggests.
The Obama administration has taken several measures to increase technology availability, notably through the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, and its ensuing E-Rate adjustments and “Connect to Compete” initiative. But it had also labeled the Enhancing Education Through Technology federal funding stream for defunding even before it was finally lost in last April’s Congressional Budget compromise. The program at that point had already dwindled to a $100 million annual funding pool from a level of $700 million in the early portion of the last decade.
Other interesting bites from Midgley’s lunchtime talk:
• Support of open resources, such as the oft-maligned Wikipedia: “I’m sick and tired of people bending my ear to say you can’t rely on Wikipedia. There’s stuff that’s wrong in there. But there’s stuff that’s wrong in textbooks.”
• Assertion of the United Nation’s interpretation of the Internet as a human right: “What drove this movement is watching the Arab spring,” the popular revolutions throughout the Arab world that were largely fueled by social media. “This is about people changing their lives, changing their government, changing the way they live, with the Internet.”
• Concession that teaching technology skills alone will not improve education: “Buying a blender on Amazon and teaching a kid algebra are very different, and one is a lot harder than the other. ... The hard work is between transforming knowledge, transforming learn, transforming experience, and creating the motivation that goes with it.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.