BY PHIL NOBLE
Today, virtually the whole world looks back on the US’s putting a man on the moon as one of the crowning achievements not only of our country but for the human race as a whole.
But we forget that at the time, it wasn’t a particularly popular idea and it was only President Kennedy’s bold, imaginative and insistent leadership that made it happen.
Today, South Carolina desperately needs that kind of bold leadership to launch our own moon shot – and you can find the tools to make it happen down at your local Apple computer store.
South Carolina should provide an iPad to every public school student in the state.
We would be the first state in the union to launch such a bold and imaginative project.
It’s that simple; it would have huge positive benefits for years to come – and we can easily afford to do it, right now.
If our leaders have the boldness and imagination to do this, South Carolina can leapfrog our children’s education and radically change the national, even global, perception of who we are as a state and a people.
First, back to the moon shot. In 1961, Pres. Kennedy announced the goal: “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”
The response was largely indifference or outright hostility. Congress was skeptical about spending the vast sums that would be required and public opinion was overwhelmingly against the idea, as most viewed it as a huge waste of money. It was dubbed by its critics a ”moon-doggle,” as they pointed out all the other human needs on earth that so desperately needed addressing first.
At the time, few realized that with those eighteen words, Kennedy had literally changed the world in ways that no one could begin to imagine at the time. The moon mission spurred a near-explosive growth cycle in the then-nascent technology and computer industry that has now revolutionized virtually every aspect of our lives.
One small example of how far we have come: today the average laptop computer has more computing power than all of NASA had when they sent Neil Armstrong to the moon.
So what does all this have to do with South Carolina and our future?
Today, we need a similar big and bold initiative – and most of all we need such a leapfrog strategy in education and technology.
First the technology. Schools all over the state and the country are experimenting with various forms of ‘1 to 1’ learning – providing a digital learning device to each and every child. Some are using laptops, others are using Kindles, iPads or other digital devices. Additional research and evaluation still needs to be done to determine which tools are best for what types of students but there is a growing consensus the iPad may well be the single best tool for meeting the needs of a wide variety of children of all ages.
Second, the capacity and cost. In South Carolina today, when it comes to technology in the schools, we are in a reasonably good position compared to other states – we’re not at the bottom where we usually find ourselves but in the middle in most national technology and education measures and rankings.
We have the experience of success. Several years ago I was fortunate to work with a group of our state’s leaders to raise over $1 million to put over 3,000 laptops in fifteen pilot project schools. The results were terrific, but the state legislature chose to ignore the results and not fund a major expansion of the project. We know what works, if we can just overcome the corrupt politics as usual in the State House.
Recently, I was told that Columbia schools were among the national leaders in the percentage of students using iPads in schools. Clearly we have a leg up and making the leap to provide a learning device for every child is not as big as one would imagine. In fact, we could provide a iPad to every child in the state for less than 2% of what we are now spending.
Third, we would be the first in the country. We in South Carolina are accustomed to seeing our state at the bottom of the list on most social and economic indicators. Though we do have a few ”world class successes” they are not readily obvious and most folks, particularly those outside of our state, view us as backward or worse.
Just think how the national and global perception of us as a state would be radically changed if we loudly and boldly proclaim that we will be the first state in the union to provide an iPad to every public school student.
Imagine the favorable national media attention; imagine the response from those who are making decisions about where to invest in new businesses; imagine the pride in our students and the state as a whole to know we are the first, the world leaders in something this important.
So, the next time you are taking an evening stroll and look up at the distant moon, think about what could be; think about the potential for our state; think about what would happen if we in South Carolina made the commitment to ”go to the moon.”
We can and we should.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and is President of the SC New Democrats, an independent group started by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform to politics and government in South Carolina.