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10/96 Analysis: Dialog Box

Whose Job Is It To 'Wire' Our Students?

To excel in the information age, our nation's students need
access to technology's tools. Who should foot the bill?

By Newt Gingrich

AS WITH ANY revolution, the information age has dramatically altered our cultural landscape. Rarely a day goes by without some contact with this new world-be it e-mail, a news flash via pager or the Web. Innovations such as the Internet have reshaped the way we communicate ideas and learn what's going on in our world. Yet, for all the vast potential of these tools, our discussions often focus on their whiz-bang aspects. Our challenge is to consider their broader implications.

I'm not saying the latest technology for moving video over the Internet isn't important. Rather, I'm suggest-ing we try to find ways to use these resources to create geniune opportunities for all Americans. How do we leverage this new "capital" to help build a better world for the next generation?

Education is one area where the opportunities of cyberspace are not being fully realized. Our national education crisis is a prime example of a situation that craves creative leadership. Merely remodeling the current system won't inject the innovative ideas America's children need. We must provide our students with the tools of the information age.

Certainly, Internet access won't cure all that ails our educational system. But our students need access to and familiarity with the Internet-especially the Web-to have a fighting chance in the emerging global knowledge-worker job market.

Internet knowledge is a useful skill for employment. But the Internet can also offer students a broader world view. Education should convey what it means to be an American citizen, as well as the notion of community. The Internet can provide some framework for discussions about community, whether the communication involves drawing a parallel between the Internet's virtual citizenship and real citizenship, participating in online chats, or exchanging e-mail with American students or students living halfway around the world. Clearly, the Internet can be a springboard for new learning that challenges young people to develop a more holistic understanding of knowledge and citizenship.

Yet few public elementary and secondary schools have Internet access. And many school systems don't even have adequate PCs for their students. Some groups advocate creating another federal program costing billions of taxpayer dollars. Another recent proposal is to give surplus government computers to school systems.

Neither of these proposals is plausible, and they ignore several realities. First, the centralized federal bureaucracy shouldn't be the primary vehicle for administering education programs for local schools. A one-size-fits-all federal approach rarely offers the flexibility to address the needs of the local community. Second, it's disingenuous for elected officials to suggest the federal government is always the best procurer of services or equipment.

Leadership should come from more than just legislators. I encourage the private sector to take a leadership role in making Internet in the classrooms a reality. If nothing else, the business community should see the value in helping to develop a well-educated potential employee, or at least, a more informed consumer.

Our children need you

This should challenge our traditional assumptions of whose job it is to educate our children. Is it the job of the federal government? The state? The local community? Parents? We all play a part in creating opportunities for the next generation. Leadership isn't reserved for a select few; it's the responsibility of everyone in a civil society.

In February of last year, I challenged leaders in the wireless communications field to "wire" two schools here in Washington, D.C. As a result, J. Wilson and Park View Elementary Schools now have access to the powerful tools of the information age. The project was completed within three months.

Even with these successes, we can't rest until every young person has access to the kind of quality education he or she needs to compete and excel. Access to and familiarity with the tools of the information age are integral parts of such an education. But we need to continue the dialogue, and your help and suggestions must be part of that dialogue.

Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Contact Gingrich in the "Dialog Box" topic of the WINDOWS Magazine areas on America Online and CompuServe. Have an opinion about Windows computing you'd like to share? Send it to Nancy A. Lang, whose e-mail ID is:

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