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Business panel calls for faster learning, more technical help
Say better education needed to prepare students for 21st century jobs, pace
Participants on a panel Thursday on “21st century skills for a 21st century workforce” were, from left, Michael Robertson, director of the Technology Association of Georgia; Gilda Lyon, STEM coordinator, Georgia Department of Education; Major Charlie Lewis, executive officer, U.S. Army Cyber Training Battalion, Fort Gordon; and Valarie Mackey, IT global performance leader, the Coca-Cola Company. About 100 people attended the seminar in Atlanta.

Learning new materials and ideas quickly and working directly with industry in the classroom were twin emphases Thursday at a seminar on the 21st century workforce.

The panel of four people said over and over that the biggest need in the business world is for people who can “learn how to learn new things quickly,” “Business moves quickly. Education moves slowly,” said Michael Robertson, director of Technology Association of Georgia.

Gilda Lyon, the state’s STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — coordinator, said a major problem is schools’ faculty “don’t know how to teach” the technical and problem-solving skills companies are seeking.

She called on companies to get involved with schools — from suggesting curriculum proposals to helping the classroom.

“You need to get yourself out of your desk, out of your cubicle, and go volunteer,” Lyon said.

“We’ve got to have the technical workforce in our schools to teach our kids.”

Lyon said teachers already in classrooms should be trained for STEM education.

“Teachers don’t know what to ask for, except money, and business doesn’t know what to give except money,” she said.

Robertson contended teachers and technical employees should be trained.

“It’s a two-way street,” he said.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in finding those people who have the computer science skills and training them to teach,” he said.

Robertson said 4,000 technical jobs are available in Georgia, most in the Atlanta area. He said companies “can’t fill (the jobs) ’cause people don’t have the technical skills to do it.”

Public education needs a new model, said panel moderator Valarie Mackey, an IT global performance leader with the Coca-Cola Company. She called for “changing the traditional learning model” in public schools.

Lyon pointed out the state has 21 of 37 STEM-certified schools that are elementary schools and worriea about more advanced STEM curricula not being available.

She said younger and younger students are learning technology and need advanced instruction to continue that path. She noted first-graders know such software programs as Scratch and Allison.

Mackey said Coca-Cola has sponsored one-day “hackathons,” and the results are impressive from relatively young students.

Lyon said the state’s goal for STEM-certified schools by now was 303 — and it has 37. About three to four years is required for a school to meet the state’s standards for the program.

Robertson pointed out that Lyon is the sole staff member devoted to the program. She said her budget is $30,000.

Martin Elementary School in Hall County is working toward a STEM-certification. State officials made a preliminary visit and hopes to request the final inspection during this school year, said Principal Ley Hathcock during the summer.

Maj. Charlie Lewis, an executive officer with the U.S. Army Cyber Training Battalion at Fort Gordon, suggested the Army may be ahead of education in its training for cyber operations. He noted the program works to build character skills in addition to technical skills.

Robertson said STEM courses can be expanded to include students who may not be as highly skilled as others.

Lyon agreed, saying any student should be allowed to try the field.

“If you’ve got a kid that’s passionate about it, let ’em in,” she said.

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