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The Role of Education in Urban Technology

Our world is changing at an incredibly fast pace.  My wife and I spend lots of time thinking about how we can help our own kids (ages 11, 9, and 7) to build the skills that they’ll need to compete in our economy.  I think many of us are getting used to the idea that real-world experiences and project portfolios are taking an increasingly important role in finding meaningful jobs today.  Good grades are not enough.

We are just entering the age of real operational technology. Analysis places the economic impact from the Industrial Internet to reach worldwide spending of $500 billion by 2020, with forecasts ranging as high as $15 trillion of global GDP by 2030. That’s going to have a big impact on the Smart City 2.0.

Thinking back to the early days of the consumer Internet and Enterprise IT markets, education played a critical role in helping activate these industries.  Many of us remember writing the most basic of html web pages in the early 90s (remember when animated gifs were mind blowing?), only to advance from information delivery, to transaction processing, to process flows and more.  But these markets could not have formed without sufficient work in the school systems.

We are at that same emerging stage for urban technology, but now that we understand growth trends and have students more tech savvy than ever, we have an opportunity to get everyone engaged from their primary and secondary school days.

Just think about it.  Knowing what you do now, if you could go back to, let’s say, 1992, would you have been a part of the massive wave of jobs that the growth of the Internet opened up?  Certainly, it wouldn’t be for everyone, but having foreknowledge about its potential may have convinced some of you to change your minds.  This is the time we are at for the Industrial Internet and the Smart City 2.0 market.

In my last post, I discussed how open, shared digital infrastructure created by industrial companies could open up access to Smart City market opportunities.  This is a significant shift to allow equitable access to a growing market at its early days.

To capitalize on this opportunity fully, we have to invest beyond infrastructure technology to education.  I would like to see every high school student and many middle school students have the opportunity to put their creativity to work in making their environments better.  We can do this with the right digital infrastructure and the right practical education activities.

School systems in cities that adopt open digital infrastructure stand to benefit the most.  Their students will not only be able to develop solutions on simulated data sets, but they will also have the opportunity to make their solutions real and actually improve the cities in which they live.  This is highly motivating for students as they get to see their classroom work become a reality in the world around them.

I am a firm believer in reducing barriers to motivation as well as innovation.  If deploying a solution to make your city better requires too much effort, such as designing and deploying custom infrastructure, we will undoubtedly see the number of market participants shrink.  By contrast, if we can show every student how easy it is to make a difference in their own lives and those of the people around them, we will have taken a significant step toward building an entire generation of students who are concerned, active and engaged for years to come.

The world is changing around us, and the skills that will be needed tomorrow will be different from those that are needed today.  It is my hope that all of our students will be able to have their minds opened and their motivations enriched by helping to improve their own cities.  Now it is time for city leaders to recognize this opportunity and provide the foundation that only they can deliver.

About the Author: 

As Chief Digital Officer of Current, powered by GE, John is responsible for orchestrating an enterprise-wide transformation by leveraging the capabilities of GE's Digital business.