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Nov 19, 4:18 PM EST

Obama says US needs to 'yank' its schools into the 21st century when it comes to technology


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama called on local school officials Wednesday to help meet his goal of bringing high-speed Internet to virtually every American student within a few years to help them compete with counterparts in countries who already use technology to help them learn.

"One of the things that we also need to do is to yank our schools into the 21st century when it comes to technology," he said.

Currently, less than 40 percent of U.S. public schools have high-speed Internet connections in their classrooms, Obama said, adding: "That's not good, since we invented the Internet."

By way of example, Obama said South Korea is replacing all textbooks with digital content and training teachers on how to use technology in the classroom. Singapore is outfitting every school with broadband that is 40 times faster than the connection in the average American home, he said.

"So we're going to have to step up our game if we're going to make sure that every child in America can go as far as their dreams and talents will take them," Obama said at a White House conference with more than 100 school superintendents and other educators who are helping their schools and districts transition to digital learning. In Obama's presence, the superintendents also signed a pledge - using their tablet devices -committing to get their classrooms connected.

At the event in the White House East Room, Obama reviewed progress since he called in June 2013 for 99 percent of U.S. students to be connected to super-fast Internet within five years. He also announced new commitments by education technology providers EdX and Coursera to provide free online coursework to teachers and high-school students, as well as a series of 12 regional meetings the Education Department plans around the country within the next year.

Since the initial announcement, several private companies have committed more than $2 billion in computers, software and other support to the president's ConnectEd initiative. The Federal Communications Commission also set aside $2 billion from special service fees to help pay for some initial wiring, and the agency's chairman announced a proposal this week to spend $1.5 billion annually on the program. A vote is expected next month.

"I've said before, in a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee," Obama said, "the least we can do is expect that our schools are properly wired."

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