There is a touch of déjà vu for me in President Obama's announcement last night of his ConnectED Initiative, designed to bring high-speed Internet to more than 15,000 schools and 20 million students over the next two years.
It seems like just one more federal government attempt to improve our schools through technology.
Obama mentioned a public-private partnership between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and companies including Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ). The immediate assumption is that Verizon and Sprint would be involved in providing that broadband connections via fiber and wireless.
But let's face it, bringing broadband to schools is not a new thing -- it's an agenda that has been advanced before and repeatedly. Rural telcos have been engaged for years in connecting their schools, some as a result of government funding initiatives but many of their own accord. As Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association , has noted, bringing a gigabit of bandwidth to the school's door does nothing if the school doesn't know how to use it. (See Getting Rural Telcos on the Services Bandwagon.)
If this latest initiative is going to work, there has to be greater effort made to integrate technology into the educational mission and to give teachers the appropriate tools and train them on their use.
There is some reason for hope that is where ConnectED Initiative 2014 will be focused. According to one source familiar with the project, the goal isn't just more bandwidth, but also equipping teachers to use it. The White House is expected to say more about this within the next two weeks, so stay tuned.
Maybe this won't be déjà vu all over again.