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Wise, Caperton talk about technology, schools

Kenny Kemp
Former Govs. Bob Wise (left) and Gaston Caperton share a light moment before they spoke about the importance of technology in public education at the University of Charleston Monday evening.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former Govs. Gaston Caperton and Bob Wise spoke about the importance of computers and technology to West Virginia's education system during a program hosted by Vision Shared -- a group promoting economic development in the state --- at the University of Charleston Monday evening.

Both governors sparked major changes in West Virginia's education system during their years of service.

Caperton played a major role in getting computers into the state's elementary schools, and training teachers to help students master computer skills when they were still very young.

When Caperton was governor between 1989 and 1997, the state's unemployment rate dropped from 9.8 percent to 6.2 percent.

Wise, governor from 2001 to 2005, was instrumental in creating the Promise Scholarship program that pays tuition and fees for students who meet its academic standards and stay in the state to attend college.

"The odds of keeping a student in West Virginia are better if he or she goes to college in West Virginia," he said.

Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education -- a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C. -- said 65 percent of all jobs that today's first graders will eventually get do not even exist today.

"We don't know what they are," Wise said, "so every child needs to learn how to use technology to succeed. ... Teachers are becoming more important. Technology is becoming more and more important."

Caperton, who was also a top leader of McDonough-Caperton Insurance, retired in December 2012 after 13 years as president of the College Board, a nonprofit organization based in New York City that oversees the SAT exam and Advanced Placement programs and exams for high school students.

Caperton believes technology enhances the role that teachers play in classrooms.

"The teacher will be the manager of the classroom using technology. It gives teachers the ability to give high levels of information to the students."

Wise believes "teachers can now customize education for each student. Technology empowers the teacher to become an educational designer."

Today, about 20 percent of all young people who have not graduated from high school are "idle" -- out of school and without jobs, Wise said.

"There have to be opportunities to get kids back in high school," Wise said. "They will be eligible for only 10 percent of jobs they can apply for today without graduating from high school."

Increasing technologies, Caperton said, "don't make the teacher less important. A miner who used a pick and shovel was no less important that someone who uses mining machinery today."

Russ Lawrence, who is Arch Coal's vice president for external affairs, hosted the public panel discussion on Monday evening.

Chesapeake Energy, IGS Energy and Arch were all co-sponsors of the Vision Shared program. Nearly 100 people attended.

Lawrence said the four goals of Vision Shared are: education, workforce development, entrepreneurship and economic diversity in West Virginia.

Vision Shared is focusing on the "need for West Virginia to have a diverse economy."

Lawrence also praised the cooperation the group's efforts are getting from Kenney Perdue, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, and Steve White, executive director of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation.

Caperton stressed the need for increased technology.

"I don't think we have demanded of our teachers and education system that they use technology as much as they need to use it. If we don't challenge all of our students to use these skills, we will have problems."

Wise said, "West Virginia was the first state that worked to integrate technology with education on a statewide basis.

"Today, we want to work with all of our [school] districts to make sure they have a plan to effectively use technology."

Caperton said he attended a dinner Sunday night with seven people from West Virginia and 10 from China.

"The Chinese were interested in becoming partners in the natural resource business, particularly in the natural gas business. China will be using our manpower.

"This is a tough time for the coal business. But it is an amazing time for the natural gas business," Caperton said.

"We should also be teaching foreign languages in our schools, particularly Asian languages that will help us export our services. ...

"We have a great workforce with people that work very hard. But we need to educate them to help economic development," Caperton said.

Wise said the natural gas business is a major example of why technology education is so important.

"Fracking and hydraulic drilling are sophisticated at a technological level that grows every day. ... When I grew up, you didn't need advanced education to get a job in the coal mines, steel mills or chemical plants."

Most of today's jobs, Wise said, require workers to have taken at least some courses beyond high school.  

Both Caperton and Wise believe Community and Technical College System of West Virginia plays "very important" role in training students for employment in our current job market.

Wise also noted the increasing enrollment in "massive open online courses," which connect even international "students" to U.S. classrooms.  

"MOOC courses are already being used in higher education. Soon, they will be coming to [kindergarten through 12th-grade] classes."

Wise and other supporters of MOOC classes believe they give students unprecedented access to some of the country's best professors and teachers.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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