International Reporter's Notebook

Private Sector Backs Projects Around Globe

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 19, 2006 4 min read
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The technology giant Intel Corp. has trained 3 million teachers around the world in how to integrate technology into instruction. Starbucks Coffee Co. is investing $1.5 million in bilingual education for children of coffee-growing communities in Guatemala. Cargill Inc., a Minneapolis-based supplier of food ingredients, has paid for trying to get the message out in farming villages of Ivory Coast that girls should be educated and children shouldn’t be exploited in agricultural work.

At a conference hosted Sept. 11-12 in Washington by the Conference Board in collaboration with the Washington-based Academy for Educational Development, representatives of multinational corporations preached the value of investing in such education projects. The conference focused on global public-private partnerships and was financed by Intel, Hewlett-Packard Co., and Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. It attracted 160 participants, including high-level business executives, officials of education ministries from various countries, and education specialists from international-development agencies.

Some company representatives were frank in saying that their spending in education is tied to their business interests.

For example, Jill Cocayne, the director of government relations and public affairs for BT Americas Inc., an arm of BT Global Services, which is a British telecommunications company, explained why her company has developed a curriculum for teaching computer skills to British schoolchildren. “We need these little kids to grow up and want to buy BT products.”

Other company representatives emphasized it was worth their while to put money into education because their companies need to hire employees who are well educated.

Technology companies have been at the forefront of public-private partnerships in education, so several sessions addressed educational technology projects in developing countries. But the leaders of technology companies stressed that technology alone doesn’t improve schooling.

“Computers aren’t magic. Teachers are magic,” Craig R. Barrett, the chairman of Intel, said in his keynote address to the conference. “Teacher education is the most important topic that we ought to be focusing on—not the digital divide,” he said, referring to disparities in access to technology.

Still, Mr. Barrett noted that Intel has trained 3 million teachers in how to integrate technology into their instruction, and has set a goal of training 10 million more in the next five years.

One breakout session focused on how two of Intel’s educational technology initiatives—one to train teachers, called Intel Teach to the Future, and the other to train students, the Intel Learn Program—have benefited public schools in Egypt and Turkey.

“Without the public-private partnerships, we’re not capable of facing the challenges” of bringing technology to schools, said Hoda Baraka, the first deputy minister in Egypt’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

As a result of increased technology in schools and training, Ms. Baraka said, students are learning to use word-processing and art software and are doing research on the Internet. The use of technology has spurred students to work more in teams and participate in competitions between schools, she said.

Robin Horn, the education sector manager for the World Bank, who has visited classrooms throughout Turkey and was attending the session, said that in Turkey, and he surmised in Egypt as well, exciting learning activities using computers are still more the exception than the rule.

“The technology is there now,” he said. “It’s the change of behavior that isn’t there yet.”

Gary Knell, the president and chief executive officer of Sesame Workshop, explained during a luncheon address how through partnerships with companies on targeted projects around the world, the nonprofit organization that created the “Sesame Street” television program for preschoolers, has expanded its educational offerings far beyond teaching children about letters and numbers.

Chamki is one of the characters in a version of "Sesame Street" for India.

With financial backing from Time Warner and the U.S. Agency for International Development, for example, Sesame Workshop is poised to release a version of “Sesame Street” in India that includes programs stressing the importance of hygiene and of girls’ education.

Sanlam, a financial-services company in South Africa, paid for media ads to promote a South African version of “Sesame Street,” which includes a muppet named Kami who is HIV-positive. Kami’s presence on the program is intended to help children combat the stigma of being infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

And in 2007, with funding from the Merrill Lynch Foundation, Sesame Workshop plans to launch in 12 countries, including the United States, TV episodes that teach about geography and address the need for tolerance between people of different cultures.

It features a character who energetically sings, “You and me are different but the same, you see; … This is my song. We can all get along.”

A version of this article appeared in the September 20, 2006 edition of Education Week

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