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There has never been a better time to make education systems 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 negotiate, as students pursue a variety of personal learning paths.

One of the greatest challenges lies in making our education technologies more efficient. For example, North America has over 15,000 individual school districts and more than 4,000 higher education institutions, most with their own goals and management processes. In China, many of the nearly 500,000 primary and middle schools are responsible for managing their own infrastructures. These redundancies have created tremendous inefficiencies, ballooning costs and silos of resources.

The good news is that advances in education technology —classroom solutions, analytics, early warning systems to identify at-risk students, cloud computing—can help our systems refresh outdated infrastructures with new functionality.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.


 

Top performers in science (OECD average: 500). 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.

Top performers in science (OECD average: 500).
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.

The cost of education rose 42% in a decade (1995-2004) across OECD countries

The cost of education rose 42% in a decade (1995-2004) across OECD countries

With better management, measurement and processes, it is estimated effectiveness of school systems could be raised 22% at the existing spending levels

With better management, measurement and processes, it is estimated effectiveness of school systems could be raised 22% at the existing spending levels


 

On a smarter planet, education systems on all levels can turn vast amounts of disparate data into usable information.

Using analytics, everything from student attendance to the energy use of a school building has a place in identifying targets for improvement and sharing of resources to enhance learning, spot troubling trends earlier, and instill a sense of common purpose in working toward goals.

Patterns for persistence
Students drop out of school for any number of reasons. The Hamilton County Department of Education uses analytics and advanced modeling tools to identify the diverse patterns of kids at risk, enabling earlier intervention to keep them on the right track and resulting in increased graduation rates throughout the system.

A framework for risk management
Along with great teaching and research, institutions need a solid framework of financial stability and resource protection. The University of California looked to IBM to implement an Enterprise Risk Management Information System to turn siloed data into reports about risk, ROI and loss management that have saved the university millions of dollars.

BYOD – Bring Your Own Device
Schools today are faced with students bringing in their own devices, be it smartphones, laptops or tablets. The BYOD—Bring Your Own Device phenomenon is here to stay. IT departments are looking for ways to manage it and teachers are developing methods to take advantage of it. Toronto Catholic District School Board is one of the many districts to embrace it.

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

A new school of thought for a smarter planet

Our education systems are one of the great, enduring achievements of the 19th century. They were designed to prepare children for success in a burgeoning industrial economy, and they did their job well. But a 21st century services-and-knowledge-based economy has altered the landscape, and it requires different skills and ways of learning. If we hope to help our children achieve their potential—and realize the potential of a smarter planet—then school itself will have to get a lot smarter.

As a start, we can better integrate the collection of cottage industries that make up today's education "system." There are more than 15,000 local school districts in the United States delivering K-12 programs, and they face a conundrum. Local involvement is crucial, but local districts suffer from the inefficiency of separate operating systems, measurements and management processes, wasting precious resources. Developed countries, on average, spend nearly 4% of their GDP on education, and costs are rising—up 42% between 1995 and 2004, according to an OECD study. And the situation is similar no matter where you look. In China, there are nearly 500,000 primary and middle schools, each managing its own infrastructure.

A smarter education system would start by reducing waste and upgrading aging infrastructure—crucially important during an economic crisis, when funds are needed for improved instruction. But most importantly, smarter education will reshape learning not around administrative processes, but around the two key components of any education system: the student and the teacher.

Consider a town in Illinois, where educators are mining student data electronically—from academic records to information on student mobility and attendance. Or a Florida county with one of the largest school systems in the U.S., whose Teacher Workbench provides teachers with instructional resources linked to timely student data. This information will help teachers to identify what each student needs and thus individualize instruction to improve student achievement, while protecting confidentiality. Smarter systems also ensure that schools don't bear the education burden alone. They enable the inclusion of supporting organizations and communities—from colleges to health and social service agencies to families—transforming schools into a student-centered educational ecosystem.

In China, the Ministry of Education is expanding access and improving knowledge sharing through its open source "Blue Sky" e-learning platform, which has been used by more than 780,200 Chinese students and teachers since July 2006. The state of Brandenburg in Germany is harnessing Web-based tools that help teachers and other education experts across a widely dispersed region to connect systematically for the first time. In Broward County, Florida, parents can access a "virtual counselor" to track their children's attendance, assignments and progress. In Ohio, student data is feeding performance dashboards for teachers, helping them to share courseware and lesson plans. On the horizon is the opportunity to create education "clouds"—like the one North Carolina State University uses to provide computing power and IT tools to students and faculty for research, student learning and administration.

Despite intense fiscal pressures around the world, economic stimulus programs offer the opportunity to foster real innovation in the way education is delivered. Many regions, states and provinces are exploring new models, including shared service delivery for routine functions. And the savings that result can be invested in improved teacher compensation and new hiring in key areas such as math and science. Because in the end, the chief beneficiaries of smarter education must be those who teach and those who learn.

Let's build a smarter planet.
 

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A new school of thought for a smarter planet.

Our education systems are one of the great, enduring achievements of the 19th century. They were designed to prepare children for success in a burgeoning industrial economy, and they did their job well. But a 21st century services-and-knowledge-based economy has altered the landscape, and it requires different skills and ways of learning. If we hope to help our children achieve their potential—and realize the potential of a smarter planet—then school itself will have to get a lot smarter.

As a start, we can better integrate the collection of cottage industries that make up today's education "system." There are more than 15,000 local school districts in the United States delivering K-12 programs, and they face a conundrum. Local involvement is crucial, but local districts suffer from the inefficiency of separate operating systems, measurements and management processes, wasting precious resources. Developed countries, on average, spend nearly 4% of their GDP on education, and costs are rising—up 42% between 1995 and 2004, according to an OECD study. And the situation is similar no matter where you look. In China, there are nearly 500,000 primary and middle schools, each managing its own infrastructure.

A smarter education system would start by reducing waste and upgrading aging infrastructure—crucially important during an economic crisis, when funds are needed for improved instruction. But most importantly, smarter education will reshape learning not around administrative processes, but around the two key components of any education system: the student and the teacher.

Consider a town in Illinois, where educators are mining student data electronically—from academic records to information on student mobility and attendance. Or a Florida county with one of the largest school systems in the U.S., whose Teacher Workbench provides teachers with instructional resources linked to timely student data. This information will help teachers to identify what each student needs and thus individualize instruction to improve student achievement, while protecting confidentiality. Smarter systems also ensure that schools don't bear the education burden alone. They enable the inclusion of supporting organizations and communities—from colleges to health and social service agencies to families—transforming schools into a student-centered educational ecosystem.

In China, the Ministry of Education is expanding access and improving knowledge sharing through its open source "Blue Sky" e-learning platform, which has been used by more than 780,200 Chinese students and teachers since July 2006. The state of Brandenburg in Germany is harnessing Web-based tools that help teachers and other education experts across a widely dispersed region to connect systematically for the first time. In Broward County, Florida, parents can access a "virtual counselor" to track their children's attendance, assignments and progress. In Ohio, student data is feeding performance dashboards for teachers, helping them to share courseware and lesson plans. On the horizon is the opportunity to create education "clouds"—like the one North Carolina State University uses to provide computing power and IT tools to students and faculty for research, student learning and administration.

Despite intense fiscal pressures around the world, economic stimulus programs offer the opportunity to foster real innovation in the way education is delivered. Many regions, states and provinces are exploring new models, including shared service delivery for routine functions. And the savings that result can be invested in improved teacher compensation and new hiring in key areas such as math and science. Because in the end, the chief beneficiaries of smarter education must be those who teach and those who learn.

Let's build a smarter planet.