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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 29, 1996
                           PRESS BRIEFING

The Briefing Room

2:36 P.M. EDT

SECRETARY RILEY: Thank you. Today's announcement of the 21st Century Teachers Volunteer Initiative -- I make that emphasis -- it's a volunteer initiative -- but I think the idea that the President stated in his speech, that we need to deal with basics, certainly, but then to add on to basics, technology is a very important part of today's basic, and this business of being technologically literate.

The difficulty then -- of course, we have all the emphasis going on in wiring the schools, Net Day, as you know, in California this past March -- I was there, the President and Vice President, the late Ron Brown, we were all at different locations. And they wired an enormous number of schools. They had over 20,000 parents and volunteers, experts working, volunteering, over 6 million feet of wire to connect classrooms, whatever. And then the effort to bring in computers and the software.

One of the most difficult parts of putting the Technology In Education package together, though, is this idea of teachers. This is a grass-roots effort that was announced today. It's no big government program. It's not a law. It's not an act of any kind, or regulation. But it's simply teachers saying that they are willing to put forward their efforts to teach each other to be 21st century teachers.

I think everybody agrees that that's important. Some think that teachers would be the last ones to really come in and offer -- that is totally wrong. And I'm very proud that these organizations have come together and volunteered, pledged these 100,000 teachers, some 11 organizations. You have a packet there. There's a letter that they have signed and you will see who they are -- the PTA, the national PTA, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National School Boards Association, the chiefs, the secondary principals, community colleges and so forth.

They are responding then to the President's challenge to the nation that every child must be computer-literate. And to do that we have to have these four pillars in place -- the wiring, the computers themselves, the software and the preparation of teachers. This is a national partnership and it makes a commitment to the President to train a half million teachers.

They have committed that over the summer they're going to come up with 100,000 teacher volunteers, who then are specially trained, especially knowledgeable in technology. Each of those teachers is committing then to train five more. So you have then this half a million teachers will be developed in this process. And I think that it's going to be a very interesting, grass-roots effort and I am very pleased with the President's announcement.


Q Mr. Secretary, what is it exactly that these teachers are going to teach each other to do?

SECRETARY RILEY: They're going to teach them to use technology in teaching, using computers, using the Internet, how then to take software and work it into curriculum and so forth. And that's a very important skill that some teachers just have a special knack for and a special interest in; others don't. And so this is a real effort to take some of those specially qualified teachers to help others learn how to teach with technology.

Q The Vice President keeps talking about getting all the schools hooked up to the Information Highway. Is it the belief of this administration that the Information Highway now exists?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, certainly it exists in one form or another, and it's developing every day. It will be different, certainly, 10 years from now than it is now.

Q Right. So what do you think it is now?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, I think it is the Internet, and it is a way to connect up and reach out and get information, and to pull in all kinds of connection with other students and other places of other cultures, or whatever -- whatever the use desired.

Q -- is that a lot of experts in the industry -- Bill Gates, to cite one -- believe that the Internet is kind of an interesting forerunner of the Information Highway, but will not be the Information Highway. What will happen to all the investment of hooking everybody up to the Internet if some other technology is what turns out to be the Information Highway? Does that all go to waste or do you scrap it and start all over again -- what? What do you think?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, I think technology certainly is rapidly changing, and that's an infrastructure that's moving, as you well know and your question points that out. I think for us to wait for that ultimate development we would be eternally waiting. And I think it's going to be a constant change.

The general thinking is certainly that wiring schools up to the Internet and to the developing Information Superhighway, as it's referred to, is clearly the right way to go. And I don't think there's any question about it that a school out here in the rural area or in the middle of a city can then have access to great libraries of information. And I think that is pretty well a uniform acceptance that that is a good move. I'm sure every single computer person would say maybe another technology should be emphasized, or whatever, but I think it's generally accepted that is a very solid move. And I think it's clear to me that it is.

Q Mr. Secretary, I'm curious about two fairly basic things. One is, in all the discussion of hooking classrooms up to the Internet, in an age when some schools aren't able to come up with enough money to make basic repairs to their buildings, how they're going to come up with enough money to equip themselves either with computers or with the accounts to hire Internet providers. And secondly, I'm curious about how you foresee these 100,000 volunteers actually teaching these five fellow teachers what they're going to do, if you are assuming that their schools are going to give them time off to conduct in-service training periods or seminars of some sort, or what?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, let me speak to the two issues. The latter one, I think it's important for me to say that that's kind of up to them. It's a volunteer program. These organizations are volunteering to do that. And how they do it is really up to them. And I realize that some groups might do it differently from others. But they have come together and made this commitment, and I think that's a fine way to do it. And I realize it won't be some uniform Washington plan and who gets what and how they do it, but it is a volunteer initiative of teachers. And that's really about all we can say for that, I think.

The other idea -- and of course, you know, I've made a lot of speeches around about the fault line in technology, and I really think that's something we all need to be very careful about. This is another effort to try to see across this nation we do have the technological literacy available, competency, throughout the country. And certainly technology is the wonderful way to reach into rural areas and poor areas. You do have barriers. You get into old schools and you can be wired to the Internet or whatever the Superhighway ends up, and you still have barriers within the school to get to the classrooms and so forth. All of those are things that need to be dealt with, and certainly we are doing our best to deal with them.

But this is another example. Wiring every school is certainly democratic. Having half a million teachers across the nation also will be a help to many of these poor schools that really couldn't afford, perhaps, to help these teachers with this kind of expertise.

Q A statistical question. That's half a million out of how many of the nation's teachers? How many teachers are there in the country?

SECRETARY RILEY: Well, it's around three million -- it's a little less than three million. And a half a million teachers in this period of time is a tremendous positive step. And certainly it's not everything, but then if it works well I think you can see the possibilities of growing that on into the future.

Thank you very much.

END 2:42 P.M. EDT