Classrooms and the EdTech Budget

06/08/2015 01:19 pm ET | Updated Jun 06, 2016

With growing awareness and need for blended learning and technology-aided education, a major concern among educators, school administrators, and parents has been to find ways to fund educational technology in the classroom. The costs associated with introduction of technology fall under many categories; investments in physical infrastructure - new computers, wiring, internet access equipment, furniture, and other hardware - are but the tip of the iceberg. Development of knowledge base, competencies for training and technological support is a continuous cost of operating technology in the classroom. These costs vary widely by school depending on the hardware and facility configuration that already exist or are available to the school. Overall spending for education technology in the U.S. was $632 billion in 2010-11, and this number can only grow as technology grows to encompass more of education.

While the simplest route to managing technology costs is to charge students for the facilities, such a route is not always possible, especially in schools catering to the economically underprivileged. So, will the economic divide lead to an Apartheid in education? Fortunately, in America, there are various ways in which educational institutions can obtain funding from many of the 26 Federal Grant Agencies and non-government organizations/commercial tech companies to introduce technology into the classroom. Obama's renewed Enhancing Education Through Technology program has allotted $200 million as competitive grants awarded by states to use technology to improve instruction, hire competent support staff for tech enabled education and develop "evidence-based" practices in technology. The ConnectED initiative by the Government, seeks to enrich K-12 education by providing teachers with the best technology and the training, and empowering students through individualized digital content.

Federal technology funding for K-12 school districts is routinely integrated into various other funding streams, and does not always involve money. The Computers for Learning program by the US government, for example, assists the incorporation of computer infrastructure into the classroom, through easy transfer of excess equipment and gadgets in various Government organizations to schools. The program has enabled many schools and organizations to enter the blended education mode, as evidenced by testimonials from beneficiaries. The National Science Foundation's Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program focuses on the education of technicians and involves partnerships between academic institutions and industry to support curriculum development; professional development of college faculty and secondary school teachers and other activities, with particular focus on technological education. The e-Rate program, governed by the Federal Communications Commission, provides discounts to assist American schools and libraries to obtain affordable telecommunications and Internet access. Today, virtually all schools and libraries in America have internet access, thanks to the initiative, a significant improvement from the time it was established in 1996, when only 14 percent of the nation's K-12 classrooms had access to the Internet.

Beyond government support, a plethora of NGOs and for-profit companies have assumed responsibility in assisting the education sector in their foray into blended education. The venture funding for education technology reached $1.87 billion dollars in 2014 and is expected to reach a whopping $2 billion this year. While it is a Herculean task to list all the companies that contribute to this purpose, the following representative examples show the amount of support that is available for educational institutions to bring technology into their classrooms.

CFY is a national education nonprofit organization that helps students in low-income communities, together with their teachers and families, to harness the power of digital learning to improve educational outcomes. The AT&T Foundation, through its learning network and invitational grants, supports education programs that focus on the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning. The Intel Corporation-sponsored K-12 Blueprint offers resources for education to implement technology initiatives, which includes Custom-developed apps--with free lessons plans and project ideas for education. Funding Factory is a free fundraising program for schools that accepts donations of empty printer cartridges, cell phones, and various other electronic devices in return for points that can be exchanged for new technology in the school.

A variety of organizations and websites points to sources of funding for schools as well. Technology Grant News for example updates schools about technology grants, free technology resources, and possible technology partnerships. The Beaumont Foundation of America offers equipment to schools with underserved populations and awards schools that support efforts of digital equity and inclusion and focus on encouraging use of technology as a learning tool during and beyond the school day.

The scenario is thus encouraging for schools seeking to integrate more technology into their curriculum. The challenge appears therefore, not in obtaining funds for implementation but in designing the curriculum itself and supporting it through professional development. Blended learning has already become the norm in most schools in the United States, thanks to concerted efforts by the Government, policy makers and educators.

Writing credit: Co-authored by Lakshmi, a Mobicip blogger who is just as passionately opinionated about the juxtaposition of technology, parenting, and education.

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