Viewpoints

Smart cities need smart people. Here are 4 ideas to teach them.

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By Kevin Ebi, Smart Cities Council

 

A smart city isn’t just technology. It’s also made up of smart people.

There are two ways to build a smart community. Cities can develop a high quality of life that attracts the smart people and the businesses that want to employ them. But they also need strong schools to develop the next generation for tomorrow’s jobs.

Here are four new ideas to help nurture that next generation of smart citizens.

 

1. Get kids active by keeping them online
Getting kids online usually makes them less active. If they’re glued to screens consuming content and playing video games, they aren’t moving around and getting exercise. But in Taiwan, Internet access and activity are going hand-in-hand.

The key is wide-ranging 4G wireless service. There’s no question that Internet in classrooms helps children learn by letting them tap into a wealth of research and interactive, multimedia resources. Pervasive 4G lets children get those benefits even when they’re away from the classroom, turning field trips into even richer learning experiences. Some teachers are even using GPS with the wireless data to encourage children to explore.

Taiwan has been working with Qualcomm to build out the wireless network and all indications are that it is helping students learn, in addition to providing other smart cities benefits. The country is aiming to become Asia’s Silicon Valley.

 

2. Use games to help students see things in new ways
Children like games, of course, but just because something is fun doesn’t mean it can’t be educational too. Case in point: Minecraft. The open-world game already teaches problem-solving skills, but a special Education Edition of the game from Council Lead Partner Microsoft helps make the learning more structured.

Lesson topics include everything from developing strategies for population growth to digital citizenship. Each topic comes with learning objectives and tools to measure the students’ progress. Special features allow students to take pictures and document their work for class projects. And teachers can enter the game as a non-playing advisor to help guide students.

 

3. Connect classrooms to give all children a chance
It’s no secret that children in bigger school districts typically have more opportunities. These districts typically have more resources – and more importantly, a wider variety of resources – as a result of their sheer size.

But the digital world is closing some of that gap. Skype and other distance learning tools are allowing students even in remote locations to learn from experts in big cities. In India, Microsoft developed a School in the Cloud that connects nearly 600 schools.

Among other things, some students are able to connect with “digital grannies,” retired teachers a continent away in the UK who provide language tutoring. Students have shown great improvement in reading comprehension and other measures.

 

4. Embrace new ideas to meet today’s demand
The world has changed dramatically within just the past few years and students need to be prepared with the skills needed to win not only today’s jobs, but tomorrow’s. Meeting that demand is challenging with an educational system that traditionally has been resistant to change.

One radical idea is P-TECH, IBM’s six-year high school that combines traditional courses with advanced technology classes that you’d typically find at community colleges. When they graduate, they get a high school diploma with a two-year degree in technology. And students are paired with mentors from the business world to help develop a career focus.

While some students struggle under the difficult course load, there are many more successes. The first 97 students weren’t supposed to graduate until next summer, but 38 have degrees already. At least a half-dozen have jobs at IBM, while most of the remaining graduates are pursuing four-year degrees.

 

Kevin Ebi is editor of the Smart Cities Council’s publications. Check out the Council’s Smart Cities Readiness Guide for free help to build and execute plans to make your city more livable, workable and sustainable.

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