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Education for a Smarter Planet

Cloud computing, virtualization and student data analytics can make our systems smarter

Education technology: OECD top science performers. Finland - 563, Canada - 534, Estonia - 531, New Zealand - 530, Australia - 527, Netherlands - 525, Korea - 522, Slovenia - 519, Germany - 516, United Kingdom - 515, Czech Republic - 513, Switzerland - 512, Austia - 511, Belgium - 510, Ireland - 508, Hungary - 504, Sweden - 503, Poland - 498, Denmark - 496, France - 495, Iceland - 491, United States - 489, Slovak Republic - 488, Spain - 488, Norway - 487. Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) - Education at a Glance 2009.

There has never been a better time to make our education technology systems, both here and around the world, smarter.

School and higher education systems are straining under budget cuts. The demand for knowledge workers with specialized skills is growing by 11 percent a year. Many jobs will require lifelong training and a continuous updating of skills. And the education industry has grown increasingly complex and difficult to quantify, as students pursue a variety of alternative learning paths.

One of the challenges is that our education technologies need to be more, well, systemic. In the U.S., there are 15,000 individual school districts and over 4,000 higher education institutions, most with their own goals and management processes. In China, there are nearly 500,000 primary and middle schools, many responsible for managing their own infrastructures. These redundancies have created tremendous inefficiencies, ballooning costs and silos of resources.

The good news is that there have been advances in education technology—cloud computing, open source systems, virtualization, analytics—that can help our systems refresh outdated infrastructures with new functionality. They can become more interconnected, instrumented and intelligent. In a word, smarter. And it is already happening.


Cost of education technology: the cost of education rose 42% in a decade (1995-2004) across OECD countries
Improve effectiveness of education technology: with better management, measurement and processes, it is estimated effectiveness of school systems could be raised 22% at the existing spending levels


Interconnected=a sharing of education technology resources
Through technology based in cloud computing, every student in North Carolina schools (US), colleges and universities can access the most advanced education content, software applications, and computing and storage resources. A first grader from a rural village can learn about geography through the same interactive 3-D animation and story-telling resources as her counterparts in a high-profile school district. North Carolina hopes to lead the way in democratizing education for its own state and worldwide.

In May of this year, the New York City Board of Education announced Parent Link (link resides outside of, a Web site built with IBM that allows parents to track academic grades and scores, attendance, and comparative data. Available in nine languages, this powerful tool highlights deficiencies in learning and provides parents with the information they need to work with teachers.

In China, the Ministry of Education's Blue Sky is a basic education learning portal based on pure open source technology. It provides distance-learning opportunities for China's poorer, rural students in an effort to bridge the economic gap between them and the more affluent cities. It has more than 45,000 daily users.

In the state of Brandenburg in Germany, 18,000 teachers are working over a very large and dispersed area to educate 220,000 students in 900 schools. Since the unification of Germany, the population of this former Eastern bloc region has been falling rapidly. Many schools have closed, and funding for public education has been eroded. Through a Reinventing Education (US) grant, IBM is providing a solution that will enable teachers and education experts to interconnect systemically for the first time across the state, sharing high-quality content and collaborating on critical topics.

Instrumented = gathering key data
If an education system becomes instrumented—able to capture and convey critical data, such as attendance, grades and enrollment in activities—it can gain a real-time perspective into how a student or school is doing, where intervention is needed, and what is working across institutions and throughout their lifetimes.

Intelligent = decision making that advances learning
An intelligent school system can provide its leaders with the tools and insights they need to make smarter decisions at the system level. Education systems in Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio, among others, are working with IBM to develop data systems that gather, integrate, analyze and present information about key performance factors such as attendance, literacy benchmarks and transfers. Leaders and teachers can gain a full picture of student performance and make decisions at the system level that can enhance learning, spot troubling trends earlier and take action, and instill a sense of common purpose in working toward goals.

A university major for tomorrow's world
IBM is collaborating with more than 250 universities in 50 countries that are offering degrees in Service Science, Management and Engineering (SSME) (US). This new academic discipline combines technology and business skills and focuses on complex service systems, such as healthcare and transportation networks.