JOHN OXFORD: Move forward with students prepared for the century

By John Oxford

It’s been a little over a year since the one-to-one MacBook program was announced and implemented in Tupelo’s Public School District. If we recall the announcement, students greeted the computers with excitement as teachers had to soon grapple with learning new skills in adapting their usage into the classroom. It was a new day as textbook learning, for the most part, was going to be replaced with laptops.
Outside of the classrooms, parents seemed to approach the MacBooks with mixed reactions. Some were excited for their children to have an opportunity that would not be afforded to them otherwise. Some were concerned about children having access to information that was inappropriate while others voiced concerns about theft, pawning and breakage. However, overall it appeared most viewed this new initiative as a positive step towards modernizing how our students learn.
Over the past year many friends, neighbors and co-workers have voiced varying opinions on the one-to-one project. While there are all ranges of arguments both for and against integrating computers into the classroom, from my “perch” as a Generation Xer, a collegiate adjunct and business professional who cannot imagine a work day without access to a computer or blackberry, it is imperative that as a community we not only have the one-to-one program but we embrace it both in and outside of the classroom.
As much as we loath to hear another statistic with us at the bottom, we in Mississippi have the lowest Internet penetration rate at 59.3 percent in the United States. This according to Phil Hardwick’s recent article in the Mississippi Business Journal is why thankfully broadband programs are gaining steam in Mississippi. Hardwick writes, “Among the reasons that Mississippi has the lowest Internet penetration rate are low population density and low education level, two of the more often-cited factors to explain why Mississippians have not embraced Internet usage to the extent of that of the rest of the country.”
If Mississippi wants to move forward, we must have students prepared for a 21st century workforce and traditional methods of learning are quickly becoming outdated the same way fax machines and traditional snail mail have been replaced by Skyping and e-mail. As we enter into the second decade of this millennium, one could easily argue that not being able to use a computer is pretty much the equivalent of being illiterate.
But it’s more than just an education issue; one-to-one MacBooks in the classroom are also an economic development tool. Just ask those that wanted to apply for jobs with Toyota, which only takes applications over the Internet. Even if you are the best auto line worker on the planet, if you are unable to sit in front of a computer and enter an application, you will not be working for Mississippi’s newest automobile manufacturer.
Another way of looking at it, according to the 2010 report “Broadband in the Mississippi Delta,” zip codes with eight or more Internet providers average 811 businesses while those without high speed providers average just seven businesses! To have Internet providers you must have a need for people that use computers thus more computers and more Internet providers = more businesses and more jobs. It’s an easy equation that drives at the core of the long-term reason that our community should support MacBooks in the classroom.
And just this past week a commission headed by former Govs. Jeb Bush, Republican of Florida, and Bob Wise, Democrat of West Virginia, released its report, Digital Learning Now, which it labels “a blueprint for the future of education.” They outline 10 elements for high-quality digital learning which are:
1. Student Eligibility: All students are digital learners.
2. Student Access: All students have access to high quality digital content and online courses.
3. Personalized Learning: All students can customize their education using digital content through an approved provider.
4. Advancement: Students progress based on demonstrated competency.
5. Content: Digital content, instructional materials and online and blended learning courses are high quality.
6. Instruction: Digital instruction and teachers are high quality.
7. Providers: All students have access to multiple high quality providers.
8. Assessment and Accountability: Student learning is the metric for evaluating the quality of content and instruction.
9. Funding: Funding creates incentives for performance, options and innovation.
10. Delivery: Infrastructure supports digital learning.
Funny, you would think the commission was describing our one-to-one MacBook program. Here in Tupelo we are out front on an educational issue not only in Mississippi but in the U.S. Even with legitimate skepticism, the MacBook program one year later is a positive step in helping our community move off of those low rankings we as Mississippians seem to always land. Frankly, I’d be scared for our students if we were NOT doing the one-to-one MacBook program. Being already behind 40-some-odd states in just about everything, at least Tupelo is stepping out and trying to create a relevant learning environment to prepare our students to compete in tomorrow’s workforce.

Contact community columnist John Oxford of Tupelo at JOxford@renasant.com.