Technology hasn't simply changed the way we obtain and share information; it has changed the very nature of what we need to know in order to be effective. Traditional education has been built on the basic premise that information is scarce. But with the first phase of the Internet, information became anything but scarce.
01.23.08, 6:00 PM ET — Many agree that technology should play a greater role in our education system.
Educators, governments and businesses understand technology's role in preparing our next-generation workforce and the importance of competing in a borderless digital world. We cannot underestimate the impact that a level playing field has in education, the local economy, job creation and a country's competitiveness.
However, if today's "flat world" means that a student in Jordan or Budapest, Hungary, or the Gangsu province of China has the same educational opportunities as a student in Palo Alto, Calif., are we truly prepared for what the future of education looks like?
I believe that many don't fully understand the impact or the extent of the role technology will play in the future. I also believe that the real question is whether we will be prepared when it becomes clear. We call this catching a market transition. A market transition is something you need to anticipate three to five or seven years from now. It is no different in education. If we don't anticipate the future now and the key role new technologies will play, we will be left behind.
For some in the educational community, technology is simply one more thing to consider on the long list of priorities. For others, it is a tool for streamlining and improving traditional teaching methods. But in order for us to make a real impact, we are going to have to have the courage to break patterns and approach this in an entirely different way. We might even need to explore some things that make us uncomfortable. The truth is that the next-generation student will drive technologies into schools, just as the next-generation workforce is driving them into business.
Collaborative technologies are one example of how we can affect teaching and learning. These technologies allow new forms of interacting and enable access to information and people instantly. If used correctly, collaborative technologies can provide an entirely new approach to how we teach and how we learn. These skills are what employers will look for in the future: the ability to creatively group-think, and collaborate.
Technology hasn't simply changed the way we obtain and share information; it has changed the very nature of what we need to know in order to be effective. In recent decades, our global educational infrastructure has not evolved to address the unbelievable speed of change that technology and the Internet is driving.
Traditional education has been built on the basic premise that information is scarce. But with the first phase of the Internet, information became anything but scarce. I believe that we are now entering the next phase of the Internet, where collaboration enabled by networked Web 2.0 technologies will fuel a new era of innovation, productivity and growth over the next decade. In this next phase, where information is available in real time to any device, in any mode, it won't be the lack of information but how quickly educators and students can sort it, analyze it and use it.
What this means is we need to create a new model for how educators use, teach and interact with technology. The days of delivering computers and networking equipment to the schoolhouse are over. The new model involves us working closely with educators and students to maximize their understanding of new tools, methods and processes.
This new approach poses new challenges and can be costly. However, it can't be done without the support of the schools, municipalities, and local and state government. Investment is required, not just in technology but in the training and talent development of the educators who must prepare our students for the future.
For many years, our national commitment to education--particularly in the areas of math and science--has lagged behind what is needed to maintain and expand our global leadership in innovation. We know we are facing a transition, and we must take this opportunity to provide today's students with the tools and the thinking that is required for the future. If we miss this transition, we risk losing the innovation that has powered the past decade of economic and technological growth, and we leave an entire generation unprepared to meet and overcome the challenges they will face. In our increasingly interconnected world, the impact is far greater than what we experience here at home.
We've seen that in order for a country to be competitive and an active participant in the global economy, there must be a focus on education, infrastructure and innovation, with a tremendous role placed on supportive government. Developing global stability and prosperity is something that benefits us all.
Collaborative technologies can fundamentally transform both how we teach and learn, but we cannot do it alone. We need to know how to harness the power of the Internet and these new technologies for creating and sharing knowledge that will prepare students with the skills to compete in the 21st century.
We can only anticipate what the future of education looks like. Preparing people with the skills and technical tools they need isn't an option. It's a necessity.
John Chambers is chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems.