US schools are failing a large number of young Americans. Don Tapscott suggests that the president take a look at a modest country across the Atlantic that's turning into the world leader in rethinking education for the 21st century. That country is Portugal.
Its economy in early 2005 was sagging, and it was running out of the usual economic fixes. It also scored some of the lowest educational achievement results in western Europe.
So Prime Minister Jose Socrates took a courageous step. He decided to invest heavily in a "technological shock" to jolt his country into the 21st century. This meant, among other things, that he'd make sure everyone in the workforce could handle a computer and use the Internet effectively.
This could transform Portuguese society by giving people immediate access to world. It would open up huge opportunities that could make Portugal a richer and more competitive place. But it wouldn't happen unless people had a computer in their hands.
And Don goes on:
They're also thinking of creating a new online platform to allow teachers to work together to create new lessons and course materials that take advantage of the interactive technology. Through this collaboration, the Portuguese school system will create exciting new online materials to educate children. Lots of ideas are already making their way into Portuguese classrooms, says Mario Franco, chair of the Foundation for Mobile Communication, which is managing the e-school program. There are 50 different educational programs and games inside the laptops the youngest children use. The laptops are even equipped with a control to encourage kids to finish their homework and score high marks. If they do, they get more time to play.
Naturally the success of this model will have to wait to be evaluated, but I’m pretty sure it will return many times its investment. I’d like to add one advantage more: Portugal is not only investing on raising it’s competitive capability, it’s also investing on social justice and equity.
I’ve no doubts about the kids ability to use the laptops (presently, Portugal is introducing 50€ laptops to 1st grade!), the bottleneck here is probably the teachers. Changing their mindset from the old to the new education model is the major risk this concept will experiment.
Don Tapscott is a Canadian business executive, author, consultant and speaker based in Toronto, Ontario, specializing in business strategy, organizational transformation and the role of technology in business and society. Tapscott is chairman of business strategy think tank New Paradigm (now nGenera Insight), which he founded in 1993. Tapscott is also Adjunct Professor of Management at the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.