Pedro Hernandez Ramos
Networked computers offer educators incredibly powerful resources for managing and sharing information. The Academic Solutions Manager for Cisco Systems’ Worldwide Education Group talks about how this technology is changing education, as well as a unique program that trains students to maintain networks.
Could you talk a little bit about what Cisco does?
Our core products are networking products that constitute what some people call the plumbing of the Internet: routers, switches, and other hardware. Another category of business is software products that use networks to maximize efficiency in institutions — everything from a very large university all the way down to an individual school. We partner with our customers to help them transform their practices using networks and the Internet, just as we have changed our business processes.
What is your role as Academic Solutions Manager?
My main responsibility is to find opportunities for administrators, teachers and learners to transform their practices with the benefit of technology and networking and Internet-related solutions. We look for solutions that can help an institution maximize its resources for the benefit of the learners.
What do you think might be the result of all of this increased “connectedness” in educational institutions?
That’s something that I have been thinking a lot about lately. I think we are going to start seeing dramatic changes in the way schooling happens at the K-12 level.
For example, teacher preparation. There’s a great deal of agreement that the way this country and most countries around the world are preparing teachers is inadequate. You might summarize it by saying teachers are being prepared to teach in a world that no longer exists.
Some of the most innovative teacher preparation programs have begun to transform themselves, and create professionals who are capable of seeing themselves and their careers in education in a very different way than teachers in the past were prepared to do.
Different in what ways?
The way they approach learning in general for themselves and for their students. The way they look at technology and other tools as resources for themselves and for the students. The way they see themselves in the institutions and the role of those institutions in the community at large. What they believe students are supposed to do or should be capable of doing when they finish their course of studies at the K-12 level.
The expectations and the practices have started to change significantly, whether at the institutional or at the professional teacher level or at the student level. And a lot of it has to do with technology. Certain problems that seem intractable in traditional ways can seem tractable and even solvable with the appropriate use of technology.
Can you give an example?
The best example I have is from Chile. Ten years ago, Chile started to build a national K-12 education network. They didn’t start by saying, like most people here in the U.S. and around the world, “We need computers in the schools.” They started by saying, “We have two fundamental problems one is the quality of the education that we offer and the other is the equity of the education that we offer.”
They looked around and said, “How can we address equity and quality in the foreseeable future?” They realized that something had to be done about facilities, about teacher quality, about resources. But going about those things in the traditional way meant that they would be looking at a 50-year window.
Only then did they ask, “Can technology help us address these issues faster and better?” They came up with the idea of building an education network that would be accessible in every school in the country and that would provide exactly the same high quality resources to every single student in the country, at exactly the same time.
Are schools in underdeveloped countries getting wired as well?
An interesting thing happened in July after the G-8* summit in Japan. Cisco announced a collaborative initiative at the G8 summit called the “Least Developed Countries Initiative.” In very close collaboration with the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank and a couple of other organizations, Cisco is working to set up Cisco Networking Academies in the 24 least developed countries around the world.
These are places that are very, very poor, where we are contributing time, effort and resources to help them figure out everything from their basic connectivity to the Internet to developing networking capabilities. They need food, they need health, they need basic infrastructure, but they also need a way of imagining themselves in the future participating in a global economy that is going to be wired, that is going to rely extensively on the Internet for doing anything and everything.
What is the Cisco Networking Academy?
The Cisco Networking Academy Program is a partnership between our corporation, educational institutions, and other business and government organizations. It started three years ago, in 1997, on a very small scale (64 schools in 7 states) as a way to help schools and education institutions that were setting up networks to become self sufficient in the maintenance and growth of those networks. It quickly expanded to more than 5,640 Academies in 94 countries; currently, about 153,000 students and 12,000 instructors are enrolled.
The Academy program now offers a core of 560 hours of online curriculum, including guided activities in labs. The institutions are required to set up a networking lab where the students can work with the hardware and learn things like how to configure routers. Students learn to work collaboratively with peers just as they will have to when they enter the work force.
This is a philanthropic program; in addition to providing the curriculum Cisco heavily subsidizes the purchase of the networking labs which are required for the Academies.
Why is Cisco putting so much energy into such a project?
Cisco’s main goal with this program is to improve education by partnering with education institutions around the world. On the one hand, it’s great to have more people out there who know how to design, build and maintain networks, because that’s our business. On the other hand, you probably have heard about the very large number of vacancies in IT jobs. How are we going to prepare enough people in the relatively short time before this problem becomes worse? The Networking Academy program is an approach that can reach thousands of people simultaneously, delivering training in a high quality environment with measurable, accountable results. I describe it as enlightened self interest.
You must be having some interesting experiences.
The impact on people’s lives is really very dramatic. We hear about case after case after case of individuals who may have finished high school but find themselves in low-skill jobs. They sign up for the Academy program and in two years or less they are able to become a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). They find themselves in demand because of the new level of skills and knowledge that they have acquired.
Right here in San Jose a homeless shelter set up an Academy, and it wasn’t too long before the graduates of this place stopped being homeless because there was a lot of demand for them to go into work as soon as they finished the Academy program.
Those are the kinds of things that make us feel good, when we are able to point to hundreds if not thousands of individuals whose lives have been transformed.
*G-8 – The “Group of Eight”, the heads of the leading industrial democracies: France, the United States, Britain, West Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada and Russia.
Cisco Networking Academy