The Department of Education’s decisions and actions – and those of the entire education system and its stakeholders throughout the United States – must be guided by the world we live in, which demands that we think differently about education. Technology and the Internet have fostered an increasingly competitive and interdependent global economy and transformed nearly every aspect of our daily lives – how we work; play; interact with family, friends, and communities; and learn new things.
The context of global interdependence is especially important for this generation of students because many of today’s challenges will be solved only by individuals and nations working together. The leadership of the United States in the world depends on educating a generation of young people who are capable of navigating an interdependent world and collaborating across borders and cultures to address today’s great problems.
Another important context is the growing disparity between students’ experiences in and out of school. Students use computers, mobile devices, and the Internet to create their own engaging learning experiences outside school and after school hours – experiences that too often are radically different from what they are exposed to in school. Our leadership in the world depends on educating a generation of young people who know how to use technology to learn both formally and informally. Technology itself is an important driver of change. Contemporary technology offers unprecedented performance, adaptability, and cost effectiveness.
Technology can enable transforming education but only if we commit to the change that it will bring to our education system. For example, students come to school with mobile devices that let them carry the Internet in their pockets and search the web for the answers to test questions. Is this cheating, or with such ubiquitous access to information is it time to change what and how we teach? Similarly, do we ignore the informal learning enabled by technology outside school, or do we create equally engaging and relevant experiences inside school and blend the two?
We know from our rankings in the world in terms of academic achievement and graduation rates that what we have been doing to fill our education pipeline and ensure that students graduate is not working. Getting students to stay in school is crucial, and equipping them with the skills they need to learn to be successful throughout their lives is equally important. The essential question facing us as we transform the U.S. education system is this: What should learning in the 21st century look like?
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