As I've written before, there's been a fair amount of hand-wringing over whether the U.S. educational system is keeping up with the shifting demand for skills driven by the global economy. That's why we compare our national math and science scores with other countries, for example, and worry about the efforts of countries like China and India to boost their own educational systems. One Asia Society official mentioned in my post likened the environment in those countries to the one in the U.S. following World War II, when such ambitious efforts as the GI Bill were created.
HCL Technologies CEO Vineet Nayar took quite a bit of heat for suggesting recently that the U.S. wasn't producing enough graduates prepared to compete in the global economy. But many American executives, including Microsoft's Bill Gates, have suggested the same thing.
Critical comments like those directed toward Nayar do nothing to address the issue. It's heartening to see that companies like Microsoft and Cisco, even as the current economy forces them to lay off employees, are recognizing the truth in Nayar's remarks and taking a long-term outlook on improving American education.
Both companies are among the partners working with the New York City department of education on an experimental program called School of One. As reported by Forbes, it utilizes technology to support an individualized learning approach that presents daily "playlists" (thanks, iTunes) to middle school math students so they know which areas need extra work. Computers are intended to support the different ways different children learn. Seventy percent of the $1 million price tag was provided by Microsoft, Cisco and other corporate donors.
Cisco's project manager for the program, Gene Longo, says in the story that technology is intended to support teachers, not replace them. That's good to hear. The downfall of many programs incorporating technology is relying too much on gear like laptops with not enough emphasis on training teachers to include them in the curriculum. Just as at the office, technology is pretty ineffective without good underlying processes.
Three middle schools will participate in the program in 2010, according to the story, and it could expand if more funding is obtained. I'd like to see more companies like Microsoft and Cisco ponying up some dough.