Oct 31 2006

The Importance of Not Falling Behind In a Tech-Savvy World

In order to succeed in a technologically driven global economy, we need an all-out mandate to improve education, especially in science and math.

In today’s connected world, countries that don’t teach kids to be tech-savvy risk falling behind.

In his book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, contends that we are moving toward a Web-enabled level playing field on which only the tech-adept can remain truly competitive.

U.S. schools are certainly on the right track with more and more initiatives to implement high-speed Internet access, wireless networks, notebook PCs, interactive whiteboards and other tech tools. But when it comes to total buy-in from federal and state governments, school administrators and teachers, the United States still lags behind India and China.

We need an all-out mandate to improve education, especially in math and science, to compete in a flat world. We must do more to provide our schools and students with suitable technologies as teaching tools, to expose students to math and science as possible career paths, and to ensure that they possess technology fluency when they graduate from high school.

Making Things Happen

Maine’s Hermon School Department, like many rural districts, has had to overcome great obstacles to provide connectivity technologies to its rural schools, some of which are 20 miles apart. Fortunately, Jeff Wheeler, the district’s director of information services, understands the importance of IT and connectivity for all students and makes it happen. (See Stacy Collett’s “Connected in the Country ” on page 40.)

In addition, principals can be technology leaders, serving as architects of change (see Bill Morrison’s “Get the Principal on Board ” on page 19). By ensuring that the school’s culture is one of change and innovation that values both technology and teaching excellence, principals can lead the way for teachers and the IT staff.

“Principals still need all the other qualities that have always been associated with leadership, but if they don’t stay current with technology, principals may lose the respect of those around them,” says Curt Anderson, instructional technology specialist for Millard Public schools in Omaha, Neb.

A Global Issue

The Republic of Ireland shares the U.S. disconnect between wanting to be a high-tech powerhouse and not making technology an important part of government and education policies. IT is not an official element of the Irish curriculum, which means there is no requirement on Irish teachers to use technology in their classrooms, says Ciaran McAuliffe, an Irish elementary school teacher at St. Cronin’s Junior School in Swords, a town outside Dublin. (See Emmet Cole’s “Ireland’s Digital Woes ” on page 44.)

Ireland is making an effort to lessen the digital divide with new technology centers that work hand-in-glove with schools. Says Michael Hallissy, a director of learning with the Digital Hub, a new technology center in Dublin, “Young people are coming from a media-rich environment. . . . We need to engage these kids. The only way to do that is with technology.”

The Sky Isn't Falling — Yet

When students begin their early school years exposed to technology, they quickly familiarize themselves with its capabilities and have no fear of experimenting with and incorporating IT into their world. We see the results now in new generations of high school and college students who use their computers as an all-purpose educational, entertainment and communication tool. And institutions of higher education have responded by building high-tech smart classrooms featuring the latest technologies.

“The sky is not falling today, but it might be in 15 or 20 years if we don’t change our ways,” Friedman writes in The World Is Flat. “And all signs are that we are not changing, especially in our public schools.”

Chris Rother is group vice president for Vernon Hills, Ill.-based CDW Government Inc., a leading technology provider to government and education. She is a passionate advocate for enhancing the educational experience with technology.