U.S. Far behind in Integrating Technology in Schools

Sadly, this headline isn’t breaking news; it’s a condemnation of the ongoing failure to integrate technology into our schools. States and school districts continue to cut school budgets, slashing technology spending and teacher training on what will be our most critical competitive fronts for future generations of workers.

I spend a great deal of time in schools. Some are shining examples of where the future of education needs to go with embracing technology, customizing education to individual students and building real world problem solving skills. But far more schools are battening down the hatches, sticking to old-school approaches, trying to maintain a ‘walled garden’ approach to the internet, and not insisting upon teacher training in technology.  While I’m at it, I’ll give the evil eye to some within school unions who are so entrenched in defending the status quo they are a contributing factor in the decay in education.

In stark contrast to the U.S. scene came the news earlier this month from South Korea announcing they will have completely replaced textbooks with tablets by 2015. And plan to offer every citizen access to 1 Gbps Internet speeds by 2012.

As the LOOKBOTHWAYS Foundation (of which I am president) beta tests the first few lessons in our NetSkills4Life online interactive curriculum with schools, many of these technology hurdles leap to the forefront. And these struggles are in schools that are keen on adopting the curriculum!

These schools struggle with ridiculously slow connections, to few (and old) computers, policies that prohibit access to quality content on sites like YouTube, a shortage of headsets for students in individualized learning, inadequate tech support and anxious teachers who want and need better training.

It’s an economic death sentence.

The U.S. won the industrial revolution in part because we did not have old factory infrastructure that we were still trying eke out returns from, as England did.  Now we’re the ones entrenched in antiquated systems and approaches – and we can either cut the losses and leap forward, or hang on and watch as nimbler countries leap ever further past us.

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center published a report showing that large swaths of the world see, or expect to see, China overtake the U.S as a global superpower. Look at this list; it includes France, Spain, Britain, and Germany – all once superpowers in their own right, but each failed to stay ahead of the technology advances of their day and therefore fell to the countries that did make investments for the future. Each of these one-time superpowers became smug in their belief that their position was unassailable. They failed to continue innovating, content to reap profits from their existing – and increasingly outdated – infrastructures and woke up one day to find themselves a has-been.

We’ve placed our country and our youth on the cusp of has-been, and we’ve done it in less than 20 years.

The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, now ranks the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.

The OECD report also noted that investment in education is paid back many times over saying “Boosting US scores for reading, math and science by 25 points over the next 20 years would result in a gain of 41 trillion dollars for the United States economy over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010. Bringing the United States up to the average performance of Finland, the best-performing education system among OECD countries, could result in gains in the order of 103 trillion dollars.

The United States has fallen so far behind in education that the percentage of 15-year-olds, who are enrolled in school, is third from the bottom of the OECD countries – only Mexico and Turkey have smaller percentages.

Though this year saw an improvement in U.S. high school graduation rates, only 8 of the OECD countries have a lower high school graduation rate than the United States. And our college graduation rates have slipped from 2nd in the world to 13th between 1995 and 2008– not because we have fewer graduates, it’s because we failed to increase our number of graduates while other countries improved their college graduation rates by leaps and bounds. We’ve also failed to graduate students in core areas like engineering and science.

Change is inevitable – what the change will be is a choice

We either decline or we increase our investment in developing competitive capabilities in our youth, our infrastructure, and our businesses.  Do your part. Vote to support technically progressive education. Let your elected officials hear your demand for technically progressive education. Demand your schools adopt and embrace responsible technology integration in education.

Stop saying ‘no’ to your child’s interest in developing their online skills and instead work with them so they master the skills they need and accept the responsibilities of being a digitally literate citizen.  And start demanding more of your children in school. School should be hard – otherwise kids aren’t learning to their potential, or achieving a sense of real accomplishment.

Whether you step up out of love of our children, for love of country, or for the pure love of money, I don’t care. Just step up.



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