Commissioner A. F. Ganier, III|
CEO, Education Networks of America, Inc.
My focus during the Commission hearings has been on this country's approximately 53 million k-12 children and their 50 million parents.
While a great deal of the testimony and debate presented to the Commission revolved around the home and parents, it is clear that the schools and other public centers in America's communities have a special role to play in the next generation's adoption and utilization of the Internet. Unlike television, which was introduced into the home and never meaningfully penetrated schools and libraries, the Internet has quickly become a reality in these places. Indeed, it is estimated that our schools currently have installed 7,500,000 Internet-connected computers. This number is expected to double over the next few years.
And with good reason. Computers and the Internet represent educational tools of enormous value. Technology, if properly incorporated and used, really does have the ability to transform education. Moreover, the ability of an individual to understand, develop and use technology effectively will be critical to his or her ability to succeed in the world and to the country's continued economic development.
While many of the Commission's recommendations, such as parental education and posting information on the Web are laudable, they do not address the more than 50% of children who do not have access to technology in their homes or whose parents have no inclination towards technology--. Government must continue to focus on what is going on in the schools. I estimate that Federal, State and Local governments invest more than $12 billion on Internet connectivity and related technology each year. Most of this connectivity, however, has been for connectivity's sake. The truth is that the corresponding bandwidth and hardware are not being used for productive educational programs.
One of the ways to move from the mere ability to access the Internet to the ability to enhance education is to ensure that all public places that offer Internet access to our children also offer them a safe experience. Without safety, there will be no Internet experience. Localities that find themselves confronted with online predators and other HTM material will continue to turn the computers off and let their children fall further behind the digital divide.
Moreover, safety solutions must work transparently in order to be of real value. I personally offer low scores to many of the solutions presented because they do not work for parents, children, teachers, administrators and other members of communities that do not have the high tech skills or the inclination towards technology that such solutions require. Most policy decision-makers have almost no exposure to communities of this nature, and their recommendations therefore tend to focus on well educated communities that have high tech skills, plenty of money, and families with the time and energy to work with kids on a one-on-one basis. This is contrasted with communities where low education levels, low incomes and cultural barriers do not lend themselves to technology adoption. The goal is to break this pattern.
Finally, it should be noted that the safety of our children does not come at the expense of the First Amendment. The real barrier to free speech is that the Net is unsafe for children and, therefore, decision makers are refusing to let it be used. The baby is being thrown out with the bathwater. This is especially true in communities where the need is the greatest.
Moreover, public institutions have limited resources and enormous missions to accomplish. The responsibility of a librarian or a teacher to select how to allocate available bandwidth is no different than the decision as to how best to fill a limited number of bookshelves. There are only so many units of Internet access per dollar available. Technology permits these decisions to be made.
The conclusion that I offer the Congress is that no one solution will solve all of the problems. A combination of approaches will be required. However, any such combination must focus on schools and work in the poorest and most technologically illiterate areas. Only once this philosophy is adopted will long-term solutions such as educating 50 million parents, or encouraging them to visit a web page about safety and take the time to transfer that knowledge to their children, actually work.
Every year a whole generation of children whose parents do not have the resources or the inclinations to expose their children to technology are left further behind. The schools are where these children will find digital equality, and safety must, therefore, begin there.
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