Earlier this week, I commented on the 2012 NBC Education Nation Summit in New York City. I voiced concerns that the education dialogue failed to address green issues, which potentially could be affected by its suggestions. After a lively discussion with other “green” bloggers, I feel that I should qualify some of my stated concerns.
First of all and perhaps most importantly, I agree that technology is a key element in the education of America’s youth. Tablets, computers and smart phones definitely deserve a place in the hands of students because they offer immediate global access to knowledge. The exercise of using these devices in itself aids in the development of skills in critical thinking and problem solving. Nonetheless,I stand by my concern that any movement to supply these devices to all students carries with it a responsibility and accountability for the proper management of these electronics in order to avoid pollution of the environment. A plan has to be in place to properly recycle and/or dispose of obsolete devices. Students simply cannot “throw them in the trash” and move on to the latest and greatest device. Landfills simply cannot tolerate the potential volume of debris.
Secondly, any dialogue on the incorporation of digital instruments in the educational system must include concern over the lack of access to Internet service by many communities in this country. An examination of recent statistics by the Federal Communications Commission indicates that 19 million Americans still have no access to high-speed Internet. Approximately 14.5 million of these individuals or around 5% of the total U.S. population, “live in rural areas, where Internet providers do not offer services because ‘there is no business case to offer broadband’ services”. Although the Telecommunications Act of 1996 required the FCC to ensure that broadband was rolled out on a “reasonable basis” to all corners of the country, the current report indicates that this is not happening. It now is the FCC’s goal to have “universal broadband deployment” in the country by 2020. Any recommendations by education summits and conferences, as well as any national education benchmark programs to incorporate digital technology through the use of electronic devices for all students will need to address the problems of the digital divide so as to guarantee the availability of these services to all public school students.
Another issue in my previous blog addresses the subject of online courses for all students. While I do agree that there is a place in the educational system for online courses as a learning tool, and I acknowledge that they positively impact the green movement with reduced transportation of students to classrooms, I still believe that we need to be careful about initiating programs that potentially limit or eliminate the requirement for face-to-face interaction between students and teachers. We have to proceed cautiously here to avoid overzealous efforts of some government administrators and elected officials to adversely impact the public education systems through harsh budget costs and elimination of teacher positions, books and supplies. Also, while it would be great for students to meet at area museums, galleries and other cultural centers to get a hands-on experience in many subject areas, the proponents of these ideas must face the reality that there are many towns and even counties in this country that either do not have these cultural attractions or who have eliminated them because of economic restraints. Access to cultural centers for hands-on education is great, but any dialogue must address the availability of this for all students.
In conclusion, any education summit or conference that aims to improve America’s education system must be mindful of the needs of all students served by the system. The respected experts who are entrusted to establish the guidelines for programs to improve public education must be fair and just in their decisions. Education and the green movement go hand-in-hand. The green movement strives to preserve our planet for future generations, and “education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another” (G.K. Chesterton). Let’s learn green, live green, be green!