Appalachia may be one of the poorest regions of the United States, but its about to receive a boost of technology riches thanks to a partnership announced May 26 between the Appalachian College Association and IBM.
Designed to build open standards skills and promote collaborative learning, the new initiative between the ACA and IBM will provide students and teachers with a wide range of free IBM software, hardware and services resources.
"This didnt happen overnight," IBM vice-president of alliances and academic initiatives Mark Hanny told eWEEK.
"Weve been working for a long time on getting these schools free access to IBM software, access to hardware, free courses, faculty training, and helping develop the curriculum. Were helping these 3000 faculty members and 40,000 students integrate IT into their curriculum."
Seventeen courses will be updated this year at the various ACA colleges to include JAVA, RSA, Cloudscape or DB2, expected to impact 350 to 500 students by fall 2006.
"What were seeing in the marketplace is a broadened definition of IT. Its become a pervasive skill, required in all jobs, so were working with business schools, nursing schools, the broad array of the curriculum that could be affected by technology," Hanny said.
While much of the current discussion about the decreased focus from U.S. students on math and science has focused on the quality of inner-city schools, less attention has been paid to the same trend in rural schools.
The geographic isolation of Appalachia, a region surrounding the Appalachian Mountains, is seen as contributing to many of its fiscal woes.
"These schools are an area that for decades and even centuries has been on the wrong end of the curve in almost every measure possible: poverty, graduation from high school and employment. We are long in need of help," ACA spokesperson Martin Ramsey told eWEEK.
Students in central rural Appalachia must overcome a poverty rate of 27 percent, over double the national average, and high school graduation rates of almost 10 percent less than the rest of the country.
"Technology has the power to make geography irrelevant. Our students graduate and need to find jobs and compete with India and the rest of the world, and its a daunting challenge," Ramsey said.
A report issued May 3 by the Government Accountability Office found that the proportion of postsecondary students obtaining degrees in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields has fallen significantly, from 32 to 27 percent between 1994 and 2004, citing sub-par teacher quality and poor high school preparation.
But, not everyone is discouraged.
"I guarantee that in the next few years you will see technology startups in this region," Hanny said.