The holidays traditionally are a time for sharing good news, and to start December, we have some: Oracle, as part of the new Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition in the EU, plans to invest $1.4 billion to support computing education across EU member states during the next three years.
The Digital Skills Agenda for Europe and the new coalition were initiated this year by the European Commission to extend and expand work started under the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs in 2013.
During the past three years, under our original 2013 pledge, we have provided professional development for 1,246 educators across the EU, empowering them to deliver academic computer science in the classroom, to help close the digital skills gap, and to make students in more than 1,400 educational institutions across the EU ready for college and jobs across industries in the twenty-first century.
These are big investments that aim to meet big needs. Even though I’m used to dealing with amounts like this in the abstract—Oracle Academy’s annual direct and in-kind investment in computer science education is $3.3 billion to support 3.1 million students—the scope of these values in many ways defies imagination. It’s hard to put words or images around millions or billions of anything to make those vast quantities tangible and real.
But some things do make these needs and efforts more tangible, at least for me. I took my kids to see A Christmas Carol during the weekend. In case the title doesn’t bring to mind the story, this is the one about the old miser Ebenezer Scrooge and his visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
It’s been a long time since I read Dickens; I had forgotten the bleakness of the story. I had forgotten how much it is a tale of lack of opportunity, of ignorance and want, of class and the blind divisions between the haves and the have-nots. Coming into the end-of-year holidays on the tail of an acrimonious US election season, in a world torn by war and broken communities, and a year marked perhaps most poignantly in my mind by the bleak faces of tens of thousands of refugees from many countries, A Christmas Carol was a sharp reminder of the importance of living in and seeing our world. Turning the calendar page into a new year always invites taking stock, and this year especially I think we have to ask ourselves and demand an honest answer: Are we doing good in the world?
On the work front, at least, I’m happy to report that I can honestly say yes. As we move into Computer Science Education Week, this week puts an exciting cap on a year of positive impact by Oracle Academy. We started 2016 with a pledge to improve computing education in India, setting a goal of supporting 500,000 students in India annually by 2019. We followed that with big commitments to support computer science education for all students, everywhere, including and especially under-represented populations and girls:
At Oracle, everything we do is important. Without our revenues, we could not make philanthropic investments on the scale we do. For many of us, though, the company stays connected, alive, and vital through the work we do to give back to our communities.
Perhaps that’s why, when we talk about Oracle Academy, our focus generally isn’t on the dollar value of what we do. Undoubtedly the numbers are impressive, but what really keeps all of us motivated every day is the time we spend actually doing the work: teaching teachers the content and pedagogy of delivering computing education in the classroom, hosting events for students, experiencing firsthand that “Aha!” moment when something that hasn’t been clear suddenly becomes so. There is a genuine sense of victory for the learner. And for us, there is an unquantifiable value in knowing that the world will now be a different—and likely better—place for the people we reach, one teacher or one student at a time.
On the way home from A Christmas Carol, I asked my kids what parts of the show they liked best. My daughter said, “I liked that in the future that really happened, Tiny Tim didn’t die.” My son said he definitely did not like Marley, the cursed ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner, who had burst from a trap door in the stage floor as a frightening presence wrapped in heavy banging chains. The spectre of Marley was simply too scary. “Yes,” my daughter replied, “but Marley helped Scrooge see what he was going to become so he could change himself and make a different future.”
May it be so for all of us this holiday season.