Obama says digital learning push will help U.S. catch up
February 4th, 2014
06:00 AM ET
11 months ago

Obama says digital learning push will help U.S. catch up

Updated 1:00 p.m. ET, 2/4/2013

Adelphi, Maryland (CNN) - Nine-figure commitments from America’s leading technology and telecommunications firms will help U.S. students compete with their counterparts in nations with more technologically advanced schools, President Barack Obama said on Tuesday.

The commitments from Verizon, Sprint and other major companies come in the form of services and devices, including $100 million worth of iPads and laptop computers from Apple Inc., the California-based tech giant.

The Obama administration solicited and secured the corporations’ participation as part of an initiative to extend high-speed Internet access to the vast majority of public schools, with the major push coming in the week before last month’s State of the Union address, according to tech CEOs, who added the effort was led by Gene Sperling, the director of Obama’s National Economic Council, and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Obama, speaking Tuesday at a Maryland middle school, said that in an age of near-ubiquitous wireless coverage at places like Starbucks, it’s more than reasonable to expect the same service in educational facilities.

“In a country where we expect free wifi with our coffee, we should definitely demand it in our schools,” he said, noting that in South Korea high speed internet is available in every classroom. Only 30% of U.S. classrooms have the same capacity.

“We don't want to give away those advantages,” the President said.

The donated technology – which also includes discounts from Microsoft on its Windows operating system for disadvantaged schools – could help individualize learning and allow teachers to more closely monitor students’ progress, Obama said.

Obama himself got a tutorial on using an iPad during a tour of a classroom at the middle school, where students were using a program that taught math using NASA’s Mars rover.

"Good thing about this is you don't have to lug so much around,” Obama said of the Apple products, noting his own daughters were still lugging around heavy books.

Many schools have the same Internet capabilities as homes but with hundreds of students and teachers all trying to log on. In some cases, the demand is too high, causing slower speeds and reduced capabilities for using the Internet in classrooms.

Telecom firms Sprint and AT&T pledged free wireless Internet service for middle schools and disadvantaged students. The total amount committed by companies, which the White House estimated at $750 million, amounts to “an almost unprecedented private sector commitment to a national education goal,” Sperling, said on Monday.

The Federal Communications Commission is also announcing a doubling of funds directed toward providing high-speed Internet access in schools. The billion-dollar increase, which brings the total FCC funds put toward the effort at $2 billion, comes from an unutilized portion of money brought in by the board’s E-Rate program, which is derived from charges on Americans’ wireless and phone bills.

The White House said no new charges were being added to fund the high-speed Internet program.

During his State of the Union address, Obama lauded the step as a “down payment” on advancing education in 15,000 schools that could be wired under his plan. He said 20 million students would benefit from the technology “without adding a dime to the deficit.”

On Tuesday he characterized the announcement as another step in his push to advance his agenda without going through Congress. He spent much of last week making announcements on the minimum wage, retirement accounts and education that similarly required no action from lawmakers.

But he said he would still call on Congress to provide more funding for training teachers to use new technology.

“We still have more work to do to reach more kids and reach them faster, and some of the ideas that I've presented will require Congress to act. But while Congress decides what it's going to do…I will act on my own wherever I have the opportunity to expand opportunity for more young people,” he said.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Harold Read

    Canada better get ready for another Obama stimulus package like Barack provided them when he outsourced the Obamacare website.
    Don't worry Americans:
    – the project will be over budget
    – it will never really work right
    – the completion deadline will be moved on a constant basis to accommodate Obama's needs.

    February 4, 2014 06:53 am at 6:53 am |
  2. Minnie Mouse

    Technology decisions should be made by the "School Boards" and the "Tax Payers" and not our president, since we are the ones who are going to get our taxes raised to pay for it. It's bad enough that children are not even writing in answers for tests, because they are answering on hand held clickers and the teachers aren't even grading papers hardly anymore. We all have computers at home, and look at all the trouble it has caused with parents who think they know what the kids are doing. Putting technology into schools like having the inter-net available for everyone at all times, is a disaster waiting to happen. Kids need to learn, this is why they are in school. Teachers need to teach, this is what they are getting paid to do. As a society, we cannot have our children in schools where they are not learning about culture, arts, and getting physical activity. This is 100% what is going in our schools systems today because we are allowing technology to override what's important in our children's day to day learning and allowing for little to non in physically activity.The inter-net is not the answer!!

    February 4, 2014 07:24 am at 7:24 am |
  3. Rudy NYC

    I am not surprised to see Apple jump at the opportunity to donate Apple hardware to schools. It has always been part of their business model. Studies show that the computer system/brand that kids use when first exposed to computers is very likely to be the brand that kids will prefer later in life. It is one way how the original Mac computer got off of the ground. Apple donated Macs by the thousands to colleges and universities, with the goal of persuading new graduates to purchase Apple products in their careers.

    February 4, 2014 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  4. Rick McDaniel

    That simply means "new brain washing efforts, on kids".

    February 4, 2014 08:38 am at 8:38 am |