Boeing Frontiers
September 2003
Volume 02, Issue 05
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
My View

Schools for the information age

Phil Condit
Chairman and CEO

Phil ConditSeveral times in the last couple of years, I've gone to teach or speak with public-school students. It's fascinating. When I went into my niece's fourth-grade class, I thought I'd have a bunch of little kids whose attention span would be about five minutes. I thought, “Getting them engaged is going to be really hard.” But they quickly showed me differently. Within about two minutes, when it was time for another question, about 30 or 40 hands shot up. These kids had all been on the Internet and had all visited the Boeing home page. They wanted to know things like “What's the fastest airplane you make?” “What's the biggest airplane you make?” One little boy stumped me with “How much armament can an Apache helicopter carry?” (I had to have someone get back to him with the data.)

But I'm not the only one in Boeing with that experience. Just about everywhere Boeing people are, we are involved in education either as individuals or as a company.

Why are we so concerned about young people and public schools? First, it's the right thing to do. Also, if we at Boeing, like companies in other technological industries, are to have well-educated, capable employees for the future, we need an education system that is producing them today. And if we want to attract, retain and move around highly qualified people today, we need to have communities with good schools for their children. Boeing has a strong commitment to making sure that happens. But we also believe deeply that education—education for everyone—is critical to the future of our world.

While many Boeing people actually go into classrooms and talk with students, as I have done, our companywide education strategy is to focus on enhancing teachers' and school leaders' capability at the kindergarten through 12th-grade levels. At the higher-education level, it is to coordinate and leverage company resources—human, intellectual and financial—to help generate and maintain a next-generation workforce with the know-how to drive all kinds of technologies. These strategies are designed to achieve maximum leverage from the synergies we have between financial contributions, in-kind contributions, surplus equipment and donations of time from Boeing volunteers and loaned executives. They are also designed to leverage partnerships within the community, with nonprofit organizations and with other large corporations.

Our commitment to public education remains steady through upturns and downturns in the economy. We have a trust fund in which we put money when times are good and from which we withdraw funds when times are difficult so that we can continue our support when it is needed most.

Our commitment is long-term. We look at the situation historically: The public school system in the United States was originally designed to produce people who could work effectively in agriculture. Then it evolved to produce people who could work effectively in factories. What we are trying to do today is help it transform into a school system that teaches people to operate in the information age, with all the changes that brings—so that current employees, their children, their communities, and future generations can operate effectively in a very different world.

Why start with children so young? Well, if we focus only on colleges and universities, we're too late. The data says that if you don't engage children's interest when they're very young, they don't ever make it to higher education. If a child doesn't develop reading skills or catch on to the fundamentals of math early on, then his or her ability to progress is limited.

We live and work in a world in which the abilities to communicate and to deal with mathematics are absolutely vital. Verbal and writing skills are even more important today than they were in the past. And almost everything we do at Boeing has mathematics embedded in it. It doesn't matter whether you're an engineer, or work on the shop floor, or work in finance, or in some other type of office environment—this work all involves math and communications.

Boeing has a lot of people with real passion around education. The company goal is to provide them the freedom to engage in the ways that they find most satisfying. And in the end, to make a real difference where it counts most—with children.


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