President Barack Obama went Thursday to the Anacostia Library in Washington, D.C., where he discussed new efforts to strengthen learning opportunities by improving access to digital content and to public libraries. He announced two new efforts to strengthen learning opportunities by improving access to digital content and to public libraries: new eBooks commitments and the ConnectED Library Challenge.
Nearly a year ago in June, the president announced the ConnectED initiative, designed to enrich K-12 education for every student in America. ConnectED focuses on empowering teachers with the best technology and training in order to empower students through individualized learning and rich, digital content.
In a call with reporters Wednesday, Jeff Zients, National Economic Council Director, and Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the Domestic Policy Council, talked about the central role libraries play in a student’s life. They said ConnectEd—charged to prepare America’s students with the skills they need to get good jobs and compete with other countries by relying on interactive, personalized learning experiences driven by new technology—has already engaged 30 community libraries, with hopes that many more will get on-board as soon as possible, to put a library card in ever student’s hand.
On the money side, $1.5 billion more in annual funding will be combined with the $2 billion in private-sector commitments, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) funding for school and library connectivity that includes $2 billion specifically for Wi-Fi. The president’s announcement brings the total value delivered as part of this five-year transformation in American education to over $10 billion, the White House said. “We are on track to meet the President’s goal of connecting 99 percent of students to high-speed broadband in their classrooms and libraries,” Muñoz said.
Previously, the White House noted that fewer than 30 percent of America’s schools have the broadband needed to teach using today’s technology. Under ConnectED, the goal is to have 99 percent of American students will have access to next-generation broadband by 2018. That connectivity, Zients and Muñoz said, will help transform the classroom experience for all students, regardless of income.
The said that reading correlates to reading ability, and that poor and low-income children start life off having to overcome too many barriers, one of which is access to high quality digital tools and access to books, noting that for more well-off families, there are 13 books for ever children while for poorer children, the ratio is one book for every 300 children. Access to books is key because it fosters a love of learning, they said, adding that major publishers have agreed to provide 10,000 of their most popular titles to low income students. Taking the literary journey, they said, is facilitated by matching books to young readers’ skills and interests.
“The private sector has come through in a big way,” Zients said on the call, predicting a transformation in schools by 2018. The president’s visit and remarks Thursday will build on advancements in connectivity to kids to access to great content to achieve a 21st century learning experience. With the commitment by all Big Five trade and independent publishers, the equivalent value of their contribution is about $250 million. Zients said the partnership between libraries, publishers and the private sector, for example Apple, which is donating $100 in devices, will give students access they otherwise wouldn’t have.
The 16,000 libraries in the nation, they said, service children and adults, and that for many, they are the only source of free Internet. Library cards, like the libraries themselves, will be free. Muñoz said 30 library systems have already joined in, and that she wants as many more as possible to get the message. “There’s lots of energy and enthusiasm for it,” she told reporters.