More than 150 rural education stakeholders and technology experts from 26 states came together to learn from one another and provide feedback to federal officials today at a National Rural Education Technology Summit in Washington, D.C. Federal leaders in education, content, and connectivity held up the work of rural superintendents, school leaders, education service agencies, and researchers as examples for leveraging technology to overcome distance and increase access to high-quality teaching and learning in rural schools.
“Knowledge knows no boundaries and we cannot allow distance to stand between students, education and opportunity,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We have the hardware, the latest software, and huge investments are being made in the build-out of the national broadband plan to connect us as never before.”
Secretary Duncan convened the rural summit at the National Museum of the American Indian in partnership with Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough, who is aggressively seeking to increase student access to the wealth of content, scientists, and resources available through the Smithsonian Institution. Duncan also enlisted Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski in this effort to challenge the country to rethink and redesign schools as broadband and other innovations come online.
“The Smithsonian’s vast collections belong to the American people in rural areas and wherever they may live, and we have ambitious plans to use new technologies to reach new audiences,” said Secretary Clough. “We have much to offer students and teachers in art, science, history, education, and culture. We want to give learners of all ages access to America’s treasures and our creative experts who bring them to life.”
Secretary Duncan announced the formation of an Online Learning Registry to provide access to priceless historical, artistic and scientific primary source materials, like those found at the Smithsonian. Many of these resources have associated educational materials that have been created by education professionals and some are available online. But currently it can be difficult to find and make sense of this vast array of resources available across numerous agencies.
The registry is one of the recommendations the FCC made in the National Broadband Plan to give more students and teachers access to the high-quality digital content that the federal government owns.
“No technological innovation in our lifetime has greater potential to transform education than high-speed Internet,” said Chairman Genachowski. “But computers and connections alone are not enough to seize the opportunities of broadband for education. The National Broadband Plan recommended that the federal government increase the pool of high-quality digital resources that educators can easily find, access, and combine with other content to help their students learn. I am very pleased to see this recommendation being adopted. The Learning Registry will put a library of world-class educational content at the fingertips of every American student and teacher.”
In March, the FCC delivered to Congress a National Broadband Plan setting an ambitious agenda for connecting all corners of the nation while transforming the economy and society with the communications network of the future – robust, affordable Internet. The plan was mandated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009.
The FCC is leading the national broadband plan and working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to implement a joint initiative to provide broadband opportunities for rural America. The Recovery Act appropriated $7.2 billion for USDA's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) to expand broadband access and adoption in communities across the U.S., which will increase jobs, spur investments in technology and infrastructure, increase opportunities for education and career training, and provide long-term economic benefits.
“A healthy American economy depends on a prosperous rural America and broadband investment boosts innovative capacity, drives business competition, and expands both educational resources and health care services in small communities throughout the country,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Merrigan. “USDA, working with other federal agencies, recognizes that access to high-speed Internet is fundamental for rural communities that seek to overcome the challenges of time and distance and provide sustained economic development and job creation.”
More than half of the nation’s school districts are located in rural areas and one-fifth of all public school children (10 million) are enrolled in rural schools. There are successful models for providing access to college-level coursework, new content, and high quality teaching online and through blended instruction with faculty utilizing the latest technology innovations.
Technology is also being used to provide professional development and new collaboration opportunities for teachers and school leaders, and to personalize education to meet the individual needs of students and teachers.
“We must work together to pool our resources and leverage the power of technology to produce increasingly better results for children and adults,” Duncan said. “We know that students learn differently and we have an opportunity for great teachers to use technology to provide customized instruction and career pathways for students. We have an opportunity to rethink and redesign education in America to increase opportunities for a quality education regardless of zip code.”