Mathies J. Santos is a member of the R.I. Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education. He has held positions at Rhode Island College, the Rhode Island National Guard, and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, among others.
He was recently selected to serve on a year-long National Association of State Boards of Education study group called The Role of Technology in Schools and Communities, which will examine the issues surrounding the use of digital technology in K-12 education.
PBN: Where does Rhode Island fit in the nation in terms of adoption of digital technology in schools?
SANTOS: Rhode Island would like to lead the way when it comes to bringing digital technology to America’s classrooms. Right now, the R.I. Department of Education is offering a grant to a school that will redesign itself using technology as the driving force. When we award the grant and the school puts its plan into action, we expect this school to become a model that others will emulate.
PBN: What are the biggest obstacles to greater adoption of digital technology for K-12 school systems?
SANTOS: Student access to technology is the biggest barrier that we face in Rhode Island. The average classroom in Rhode Island has only 2 computing devices (desktop, laptop, notebook, etc.). Only 23 percent of our classrooms have 100 percent wireless access. We have to expand wireless access – and bandwidth, as well.
PBN: How do you see think schools are going to pay for this update in technology?
SANTOS: Gov. [Lincoln D.] Chafee has proposed a $20 million bond that will expand wireless access to classrooms across the state over the next three to five years. The governor has also proposed changes to our Telecommunications Access Fund, which will make an additional $2.1 million in state and federal funds available to increase the bandwidth capacity of our libraries and schools. These two investments would truly bring our schools to the cutting edge of technology standards.
PBN: What about in school districts in low-income neighborhoods or in places where school departments are deep in the red like Woonsocket?
SANTOS: RIDE is in the process of requesting proposals from vendors to provide personal, portable computing devices to schools through a Master Price Agreement with the state. We know of other states that have successfully followed this strategy, and their schools have been able to buy devices for less than $300 a piece. With this efficiency and the state and federal funds available for expanding access and bandwidth, schools across the state should have the resources they need to bring technology into their classrooms.
PBN: Why do you think bringing more technology to school systems is so important?
SANTOS: As we invest in digital technology, our schools and classrooms in the future will be completely different from the way they look and work today. If our students are to have the skills they need to succeed in the global, high-technology economy of this century, they will need to be skilled in the use of technology. Similarly, over the next few years we will see many more opportunities for technology and virtual learning, including online courses, blended instruction, online tutorials and online assessments. We want our schools, our teachers and our students to be ready to take full advantage of these opportunities.