Problem/Situation: Some schools can afford to take advantage of technology learning tools, while others can't.
Solution: Pacific Bell's Education First initiative is giving all public K-12 schools, public libraries and community colleges in California an opportunity to hook up to the information highway and receive a year of service for free.
Vendors: Pacific Bell, America Online.
Contact: Education First hot line: 800/901-2210.
By Justine Kavanaugh
The wealth of information available on the information highway is perhaps most valuable for students and education as a whole. But the fact that things like access to the Internet and online services are now widely available doesn't do much good if tight school budgets don't give students the chance to take advantage of such opportunities. But a new initiative - called Education First - may fill this gap for many California schools.
Education First is, to date, the largest private sector initiative ever undertaken to connect schools and libraries to the information highway. The initiative, sponsored by Pacific Bell, is dedicated to accelerating the deployment of education technology in California. It includes $100 million in communications services from Pacific Bell and installation of T-1 lines allowing for telecomputing and interactive telelearning capabilities.
In addition, Pacific Bell has negotiated with more than 20 vendors to provide participants with discounts of 5 percent to 50 percent on computers, videoconferencing equipment, communications-related hardware, software and services. Subject to regulatory approval, Pacific Bell will also connect public schools and libraries to its broadband network as it is deployed, allowing these institutions access to video-on-demand and other forms of interactive multimedia.
The company is also fielding dedicated resource teams which will work directly with schools and teachers to help them fully utilize the new telecommunications resources at their disposal and prepare themselves with the necessary equipment, software and related components.
"The objective of Education First is to provide a comprehensive IT solution for California education, from equipment for students to training for teachers," said Pacific Telesis Chairman Phil Quigley.
Under the agreement, Pacific Bell will install as many as four T-1 lines for free and waive one year's associated charges for all 7,400 public K-12 schools, public libraries and community colleges in their territory - which consists of approximately 80 percent of California.
Pacific Bell began the Education First project by choosing 11 places to equip as demonstration sites. According to Rebecca Weill, Pacific Bell Corp. communications manager, "the 11 sites were chosen to represent a variety of geographic regions, different levels of schools and various community populations - basically, a representation of each part of the entire state." The demonstration sites serve as incubators for developing technology applications, training packages and curriculum for adoption by future Education First participants.
San Diego State University's College of Education will assist in applications development for Education First, and special projects will be developed in cooperation with organizations such as the Exploratorium in San Francisco and public television stations KCET in Los Angeles and KQED in San Francisco.
In an effort to ensure the long-term success of the project, Pacific Bell has approached the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) with a plan for a special educational access rate to provide affordable telecommunications connectivity on an on-going basis for all schools and libraries in the state. It is now just a matter of the CPUC reviewing the proposal, holding a hearing and approving or disapproving the new rate. "The