Should Schools Be Wired To The Internet?
Yes--It's Essential to the Way Kids Learn
By Vice President Al Gore
(TIME, May 25) -- As TIME wrote last October, "all kids, not just ones from families that can afford a home computer, should grow up with a mouse in their hand." The President and I could not agree more. Access to the basic tools of the information age is no longer a luxury for our children. It is a necessity.
Today communications and information technology are transforming our economy and our society, changing the way we live, the way we work and the way we relate to one another. In recent years, information technology has been responsible for more than one-quarter of real economic growth. Jobs in information technology pay significantly more than nontechnology jobs. By the year 2000, 60% of all jobs will require the technology skills that only a fraction of Americans now have.
But technology skills become important long before people look for jobs. They become important as soon as children begin to learn. In a decade-long series of studies, the Education Department reports that students in classes that use computers outperform their peers on standardized tests of basic skills by an average of 30%. And a 1996 study showed that students with access to the Internet not only presented their final projects in more creative ways but also turned in work that was more complete and had better syntheses of different points of view. Numerous other studies show that children in technology-rich learning environments showed more enthusiasm, had higher attendance rates, developed better writing skills and displayed a greater capacity to communicate effectively about complex problems.
That's why the President and I have worked so hard to enable all of our schools and libraries to have affordable access to telecommunications and information technology. The E-Rate program, for instance, gives crucial discounts to schools and libraries, with the steepest discounts going to the neediest communities. Through this tailored program, we are committed to helping ensure that all children--regardless of race, income or geography--can have an equal chance to learn and succeed.
Without such help, technology is yet one more hurdle for poor and rural communities struggling to keep up with richer ones. Already, America is sharply divided between those with access to computers and the Internet and those without it. Only 13% of classrooms in schools with a high percentage of minority students are connected to the Internet, compared with 27% of classrooms overall.
Some critics view the new technology as a frivolous tool of education. But more and more, computers are at the very heart of how schools teach and children learn. Other critics are worried about the changes they imagine the new technology may bring. Over the course of history, progress often spurs anxiety. When Greek merchants began importing Egyptian paper into Athens, Socrates condemned it, complaining that the use of paper would, according to writer Nicholas Allard, depersonalize interactions, disrupt human ties and "replace public discourse with less desirable and potentially dangerous private communication."
Still other critics say we are diverting needed resources away from other, more pressing educational priorities. But we need not limit ourselves to investing in one or the other. We can do both, and we must.
Since 1993, we have worked hard to improve education from preschool to postgraduate level. We expanded Head Start, created Goals 2000 to help states set high academic standards, expanded charter schools, focused Title 1 funds more on low-income children, while setting the same standards for those children as for all others, and made college affordable to everyone through grants, loans, scholarships and tax benefits.
In the President's balanced budget, which he sent to Congress in February, we propose to build on those accomplishments by expanding those key investments while also paying for 100,000 new teachers, providing tax incentives to accelerate new school construction or renovation and investing more in education technology.
All parents want to help prepare their children for the future. Today that challenge means helping them grow up in a world in which information and communications technology dominate the economy and shape our society. We must give our children--all our children--the chance to succeed in the information age, and that means giving them access to the tools that are shaping the world in which they live.