If technology is Cisco’s profession, then education might well be its passion. From helping set up learning schemes in Indian forests to equipping IT classrooms in African slums, it is hard to think of a non-educational organization that puts so much effort into imparting new skills around the world.
Reflecting a strong personal interest of CEO John Chambers, (oft quoted as saying “I truly believe there are two equalizers in life: the Internet and education”), much of this effort is channeled through the Cisco Networking Academy, which itself is testimony to Cisco’s yen for teaching.
Since 1997 the Networking Academy has grown from a small-scale corporate social responsibility initiative to an educational behemoth operating in 9,000 centers across 165 countries and teaching IT skills to more than 800,000 students a year.
That is more people than the entire populations of Iceland, Barbados, Grenada and the United States Virgin Islands put together. If concentrated on one campus, the annual enrolment would make the Networking Academy equal to one of the five largest universities in the world.
And having operated an educational scheme for this length of time and on this scale means the Networking Academy is now increasingly of interest to policy makers grappling with the challenge of how to equip the next generation with IT skills to ensure a competitive workforce in the future.
That is why a growing number of nations are taking the unusual step of integrating Networking Academy training into their national curricula. Such initiatives are perhaps most evident in emerging regions such as the Middle East and North Africa.
But as fellow correspondent Mike Stone and I write in a feature now posted on News@Cisco, even Europe sees a potential role for the Networking Academy in providing IT skills and improving regional competitiveness.
Countries such as Germany, Romania, Turkey and the Czech Republic are experimenting with integrating Networking Academy teaching into school and college curricula. The end game is more highly skilled populations coupled with greater employability and job creation.
Through involvement in organizations such as the European e-Skills Association, Cisco is not just providing curriculum support but also contributing to the debate on IT skills provision.
It is an important task. It does not take a university degree to work out that IT skills are only going to become more critical in the years to come.