U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Friday renewed the administration's call for super-fast broadband connections in schools and a greater focus on education in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math.
In a video address to participants in Maker Camp, an online summer camp for teenagers, Duncan hailed the virtual program, saying that "it shows the power of online learning."
STEM and ConnectED Top White House Agenda
Duncan's message underscores two initiatives the administration has undertaken, one to improve STEM education and another, ConnectED, that the White House launched in June with a goal of connecting 99 percent of the nation's schools and libraries to high-speed broadband service.
"President Obama and I are both excited about the future of science, technology, engineering and math education -- the STEM fields, for short," Duncan said.
"America has become a global leader in innovation through the genius and hard work of our scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs," Duncan said. "We'd like to see more young people studying in these fields and ultimately pursuing careers in them as well. And one of the ways we're trying to help is by working to make sure that all students have access to ultra-fast broadband Internet."
"We want to make sure all students get access to the latest digital technologies, explore new ideas through online content and resources," Duncan added.
Schools Have Need for Internet Speed
The White House's ConnectED initiative comes in response to a shortfall in broadband speeds in schools and libraries around the country. The administration reports that the average school has an Internet connection speed on par with the typical American household, but provides service to 200 times as many users. As a result, not quite 20 percent of teachers consider their school's Internet connection to be satisfactory.
The administration is asking the Federal Communications Commission to spearhead the five-year plan to boost broadband service at schools and libraries to a minimum of 100 Mbps, with a goal of 1 Gbps. That initiative figures to draw extensively on public-private partnerships among businesses, states, school districts and community organizations.
Separately, the Department of Education is tasked with working with schools to develop and improve training programs for teachers involving the use of technology in the classroom to improve student performance.
Tell Your Friends That STEM Is Cool
On the STEM front, the White House launched the Educate to Innovate initiative early in Obama's presidency. That effort, unveiled in November 2009, seeks to enlist the business community to forge public-private partnerships that will encourage STEM education.
To date, the administration reports that Educate to Innovate program has netted more than $700 million in funding through those partnerships. In addition to bolstering STEM education for students, the initiative is seeking to pad the ranks of teachers in those subjects by 100,000 over a decade.
The administration is also aiming to change the perception of the STEM subjects, hoping to put to rest the stigma that brands science and technology as uncool. In that spirit, Duncan called on the students participating in Maker Camp to spread enthusiasm for STEM subjects among their peers.
"You can help by telling your friends why STEM is cool -- the technology we use, our cell phones, the best new apps, our animated movies, and even the Mars rover all come from people who love STEM," Duncan said. "You are absolutely the inventors of the future, and we need many, many more of you."
Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com. Follow Kenneth on Twitter @kecorb. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.