In November 2010, almost a year to the day after I joined President Obama’s administration, my office at the U.S. Department of Education released the National Education Technology Plan (NETP) – just the third such plan in our nation’s history. Today, as my successors release the NETP of 2016, I’ve been asked to recall the context and goals that guided the development of the plan six years ago.Certainly, we were inspired by the words of the President, who said, “The future belongs to the nations that best educate their people.” We also were motivated by the early Obama administration’s expression of “true north” – that the United States would have the highest percentage of college graduates in the world by 2020.
In fact, the United States has long aimed to build a public education system that provides all students with an effective and engaging education, helps them set achievement and life goals, persist in school in spite of obstacles, attain a high school diploma, and obtain the post-secondary education and training needed to ensure a fulfilling job and a good life for themselves and their families.
As a nation, we have come to believe that equitable and excellent learning opportunities for all Americans are essential – to ensure economic prosperity, national security, social justice, and an informed citizenry capable of sustaining our democracy. However, as we developed the NETP in 2010, we needed to re-imagine education in the context of the 21st century and consider how emerging trends were impacting schools. These trends included:
- Increasing global interdependence, driven by technology. To remain globally competitive, future generations of Americans would need to see their lives and work in a global context, be capable of navigating an interdependent world and collaborating across borders and cultures to address the great problems of our time.
- The advent of mobile technology as powerful as supercomputers. Students were coming to school with mobile devices that let them carry the Internet in their pockets and quickly search the web for answers, including to test questions. For the first time, technology could transform education, but only if we could commit to the change that it would bring to our education system.
- An explosion of educational technology innovation from entrepreneurs, startups, and established organizations. Students were gaining access outside of school to learning opportunities powered by technology that could be brought into schools to improve educational outcomes and college and career readiness, if educators could lead their adoption.
- New skills and competences required for lifelong employment. It was clear that the changing demands of the 21st century would require learning to be continuous and lifelong, rather than confined to the years that young people spent in school.
Against this backdrop, in 2010 we asked: What does learning look like in the 21st century learning? How do people learn and how can technology support teachers, learners, and leaders, and ensure equity and improve productivity?
We knew that students must be at the center, fully engaged in learning, involved in interesting and relevant projects, and surrounded by a supportive and safe social and emotional environment. We knew schools must be more than information factories – they must be incubators of exploration and invention. We knew that learning must be personalized and powered by access to technology tools, resources, data, information and people in school and throughout the community. We knew educators must be collaborators in learning, seeking new knowledge and constantly acquiring new skills right alongside their students.
The resulting National Education Technology Plan presented a student-centric learning model, informed by the latest research into how people learn, and supported by a comprehensive infrastructure for learning. We were far-reaching and ambitious in conclusions, goals, and recommendations. We understood that re-imagining education in this way would require, as Secretary Arne Duncan said, “revolutionary transformation, not evolutionary tinkering.”I am proud that after its launch in 2010, the NETP became a model for states and countries around the world as they tackled the challenges of educating young people for a future that we cannot predict. I also am proud of the open and highly collaborative effort that produced the plan. In addition to administration leaders and a formal Technical Working Group of educators, researchers, and state and local policymakers, more than 300 education leaders provided in-person input and nearly 23,000 members of the broader education community provided input through technology enabled feedback mechanisms.
Much has changed in five years; that is the nature of human progress and technology. In some areas, we’ve reached or come close to reaching our goals. A notable development is the President’s ConnectED initiative that includes the modernization of the E-rate funding program so that every school and library can have next generation broadband access. ConnectED has also spurred over $2 billion of investment from the private sector committed to supporting access and learning. Another is the Future Ready Schools campaign, which brought together school leaders from all over the country to share insights and practical knowledge required to lead the transition to technology-enabled learning.
The list of successes is long, but there is much more work to be done to achieve the goals set out in 2010.
I welcome the new National Education Technology Plan as an opportunity to refresh our understanding and insights and renew our efforts to secure our future by transforming the ways our public education teaches and Americans learn. As before, technology will play a vital role in this endeavor.
Karen Cator is President and CEO of Digital Promise. She was formerly the Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.