U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that there is need to provide more educational facilities in America's rural schools, which will produce the next generation of leaders from slowly-shrinking rural America.
Talking with small-town teachers and school officials gathered in Columbus, Ohio, Duncan said rural students need more access to college and technology to make up for the educational challenges they face, writes Catherine Candisky of The Columbus Dispatch.
Duncan attended for the Rural Education National Forum in Columbus, hosted by the Ohio Department of Education and Battelle for Kids.
"We must first dramatically increase college enrollment and completion," Duncan said. "Only about a third of young adults living in rural areas are enrolled in postsecondary education today. As long as adults in small towns and rural communities are the least likely people to earn a bachelor's degree, economic development, job creation and entrepreneurial ventures will be limited."
According to Duncan, high-speed Internet service can help rural students to access advanced placement courses, college classes and other resources often missing in rural districts, which also face shaky funding and geographical isolation.
President Barack Obama has proposed the ConnectED plan to link 99% of students across the country to next-generation broadband in their schools and libraries within the next five years. The ConnectED plan will cost between $5 billion and $7 billion and is awaiting approval by the Federal Communications Commission.
Duncan said the internet service will allow millions more students and teachers to connect to the world, and is an âabsolute game-changer.'
"Ohio is one of four states with the largest rural enrollment numbers," said Jim Mahoney, executive director of Battelle for Kids. "This event showcases some of the most progressive and impactful work being done in rural education today, and it's a great way to learn from schools and educators who are making a significant impact on their students."
Duncan said that rural educators should look to advancing technologies to improve learning and help the United States catch up with other countries where student achievement is much higher.
"Technology is a hugely important tool to increase equity and to drive excellence to the top level, but I worry about the digital divide," Duncan said. "This chance to provide universal broadband access â¦ is a big, big deal."
Duncan said districts should use online resources to move away from hard-copy textbooks. He said we are spending "billions on textbooks, and they are basically obsolete the day they arrive in the school."
According to Duncan, iPads and laptops with high-speed Internet access can provide greater resources, possibly for less money. Duncan said "I would strongly encourage folks to think about this move from print to digital."
"In education we have to stop doing what we've done for 100 or 150 years â¦ everybody learning the same thing, at the same time, the same way. It's got to be individualized, customized. â¦ You'v e got to be teaching to that child, and technology can be a hugely important tool to do that," Duncan said.