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CRAMER, WILBANKS: Math, science and innovation needed for our prosperity

It's welcomed news that President Barack Obama recently announced a new commitment to math and science education as America's best hope to remain competitive in the global economy. If we are to remain a global powerhouse, we must be innovative. The investment in science, technology, engineering and math education should be seen by the American public as a national enterprise similar to our efforts to put a man on the moon back in the 1960s.

Innovation skills require a different kind of learning. Children need to learn how to learn. They need to be comfortable working in teams, and teams with different backgrounds or from other regions. They need to delve into problems, identify the core issues, think creatively and come up with new solutions. They need to be lifelong learners.

We face some serious hurdles in Georgia regarding student achievement overall. Our children are dropping out of high school at a greater rate than ever, and we are lagging behind in math and science scores nationally. This is a problem that everyone needs to address. Fortunately, we are not without examples of success.

One way to help is by teaching subjects in a new way, and volunteers can play a role. For example, engineering is a practical application of math and science and can be used to get children excited about the human-made world. We've seen this excitement and better understanding of math when IBM volunteers hold technology camps over the summer for seventh-graders or conducting science experiments during engineers' week. An increase in public-private partnerships can provide hands-on learning activities for students that show how math and science are used practically, and in a way that children love to learn.

Educators need the tools to teach in the 21st century. Today, every industry is being connected, and intelligence is being infused into systems to make them work better, from less-congested roadways to improvements in food safety. If it's happening in other sectors, surely the education system can become smarter. Georgia State University and Gwinnett County Public Schools joined a worldwide effort with IBM to collaborate in a forum to exchange best practices and share new ideas in education -- especially around how technology is helping to reduce costs and improve how education is delivered and consumed.

We also need to bring that kind of technological innovation to the classroom. Voice-recognition technology can help children learn to read. Technology can help bring students with a range of physical disabilities into the mainstream. By the same token, virtual worlds and gaming technology -- already enjoyed by millions of kids around the world -- can be used to get them excited about science, math and engineering. These tools exist today, but we need to make them universally available.

Finally, math and science teachers are key to building the base of scientists and engineers and can influence students' interest in math and science. IBM created a program to enable its scientists and engineers to transition to become math and science teachers as a second career. One of our former employees is teaching, and several others are on their way to becoming teachers, sharing their practical experience and passion for math. The Georgia Professional Standards Commission has adopted this model, and we call on other technology companies to follow by creating programs that motivate experienced employees who are interested in second careers to become teachers.

These are just a few of the programs that could be instituted that align with the president's initiatives, and we encourage other business leaders, educators and parents to become involved in what we believe is a national endeavor.

Ann Cramer is director of IBM's Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs in the Americas. Alvin Wilbanks is the superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools.