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No child held back!

Posted by turbogeek on September 28, 2004 at 7:11 PM PDT

No child held back! It's the war cry from Sun Microsystem's Scott McNealy at the first meeting of the Education and Learning Community's first advisory board meeting.

I have to admit, Sun is becomming a very different place to me. Meeting at the Executive Briefing Center on the Sun campus starts out like you expect, all business. But then things really get going when Scott McNeally entered the room. It seems that we might be at the beginning of a new revolution in education. Nothing earth shattering or a leap in technology, just plain old community activism and cooperation.

Watching Scott was like watching a ticked off whirlwind. It seems that Scott McNealy really wants to change the state of education. From the cost of text books to standardized tests that hide the answers from parents, to the lock-step of industrialized teaching, Scott is ready for change and willing to pull education into the light of common sense. He sees "No Child Left Behind" as just a drop in the ocean and the real problem with education in the world today . "No Child Held Back" is the direction we need for effective education.

Why No Child Held Back? The current problem with education is that it is a machine that forces a certain pace of learning. If a student is allowed to create their own pace, learning is unbounded and moves as fast as the student's capabilities and interest. Learning is also bound by the teachers skills. By exposing a student to a wider field of study that is unbounded, the student is not forced to live within the bounds of a teacher's limited circulum. Not to say teachers are inadequate, the system should just allow a student access to any teacher or expert as the student's need for specific mentoring progresses.

But how do you get education to be a road that you can travel as fast as you can? As you might guess, it's all about technology and the internet. You might say that it is old news, this internet education mantra. Well, I don't think this is quite the same thing. What Scott was talking about was an effort that brings together every school, every teacher, and every student with a set of tools meant to educate everyone regardless of language, politics, or dysfunctional school board.

How can this happen? Scott had a few ideas for that too. From getting the soccer/football and film stars on the ticket to promote the concept to creating a JCP-like world-community process for creating standards from software to test questions. More importantly, the community of individuals, schools, and governments need to created and share common resources. Put simply, provide the tools and students will learn.

The benefits of a world-wide internet-based education and testing system are enormous. Rich countries benefit from cost savings while poor countries take advantage of a system they could never afford. There might be a reduction in politics too if it becomes harder for the crazy school board member to get their way.

So, we have a dozen or so of the world's leaders in education in the room, what was the reaction? I was completely amazed. The reaction was positive! There was even a positive move toward making this dream possible. All over the world it seems that pieces of this dream are now happening. For instance, Alberta Canada is well down the road of internet instruction and testing. They also seem to be willing to share. Dr. Lyle Oberg, Minister of Education for Alberta, Canada and an honorary board member for our community is in the position to make such a decision. Dr. Oberg is willing to share as were others. The benefits seem to have a low enough risk with a greater return that it is easy enough to volunteer, even if there is a great investment so far.

Of anyone at the meeting, Dr. Oberg had the most power to make a decision. But dear reader, the world has you to count as a member too. If you are a parent, student, teacher, or anyone with a voice, you too can help. If you know of any projects either in current use or in development for education, we need to know about them.

The no child held back concept goes beyond simply porting lessons to the internet and automating tests. We need multimedia, reference, mentoring, one-on-one help, and collaboration. It goes much farther than the tools. Think of the hosting and maintenance of such a system. This effort also needs money and people from those paid to run the system to volunteers.

Some money and resources will come from sharing what already exists. To meet the world's needs, we need a lot more money and people to make it work. Anyone ready to start a non-profit company to collect contributions? How about the company that maintains this beomoth? Is it one system, or spread all over the world? If you are a retired CEO, lawyer, educator, researcher, or developer, we need your help.

Talk to your school board, teacher, polititions, rock stars, hollywood stars, and pillars of your community. Lead them here and let them know that education is the responsibility of all of us. Think of this as the Electronic Peace Corps for education.

What's next? We are working on that and you should too. Lot's of things happened at this meeting that need volunteers and in some cases funding. If you can help, please let me know.

Talkback Lead-In

What do you think about the no child held back concept? What can you do to help?