Will nobody think of the the children?

There was a genuine, thoughtful debate on the role of business in education last week

Ronan Dunne said the “innate digital potential of our young people” was “not just a responsibility for the education sector”.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Ronan Dunne said the “innate digital potential of our young people” was “not just a responsibility for the education sector”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Tue, Apr 8, 2014, 01:00

Almost obscured behind the feel-good banter of the US embassy’s Smart People, Smart Economy event last week, there was a genuine, thoughtful debate on the role of business in the education of our children. It seemed most participants in the event were in favour of greater corporate engagement.

PayPal’s Louise Phelan spoke, for example, of the benefits of initiatives like “bring your children to work day” and was one of several participants who said students needed to be more “work ready”.

Ronan Dunne, the Irish-born and educated chief executive at Telefónica in Britain went further, saying that encouraging the “innate digital potential of our young people” was “not just a responsibility for the education sector”. He outlined a number of projects where his company is actively involved with children and encouraged other firms to go directly into schools and help pupils to develop an interest in the corporate world.

Phelan, as president of the American Chamber in Ireland, presented a report showing how US companies operating in Ireland had invested 62,515 hours in socially oriented education projects in 2012, with 40 per cent of funding for this coming from company donations. Dublin City University president Brian MacCraith wondered, meanwhile, if it might be possible for such companies to pool their resources, creating one big fund that could go towards encouraging Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. Marcus Segal, previously of Zynga, said entrepreneurs’ efforts to encourage Stem learning would be particularly useful in less-privileged areas and among girls.

These were all valid projects and ideas.

But Seán O’Sullivan of SOSVentures (also known as a Dragon on RTÉ’s Dragons’ Den ) quietly observed that perhaps it is not the business community’s job to educate our children. The not-so-radical idea would be that the educators should be doing it.

It is teachers who should be leading the educational revolution that most of the event’s speakers seemed to agree should occur, he suggested.

But in reality we should probably be seeking the best of both worlds.

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