Oracle says it will make a $1.4 billion investment in computer science and coding education across Europe, in one of the most sweeping corporate commitments to date focused in building students’ skills in the language of software and the creation of new technology.
The Silicon Valley company has made other substantial gifts focused on computer science education in the past, including a $200 million investment in the White House Computer Science for All Initiative earlier this year.
The new gift, announced this week, will flow to European Union member states through in-kind and direct financial contributions over a three-year period. It will focus on providing a mix of software, curriculum, and professional development for teachers of computer science, said Alison Derbenwick Miller, vice president of Oracle Academy.
The academy is a division of Oracle that seeks to support computer science education across K-12 systems and colleges. Oracle Academy says that it works each year in 110 countries, and that it has invested $3.5 billion, in U.S. dollars, over the past fiscal year in various tech-education efforts.
The organization typically partners with public institutions when it makes investments, Derbenwick Miller said in an interview. So with the European pledge, the money will likely flow to individual countries’ ministries of education or to local school systems, depending on the structure of those nations’ education systems.
A big focus of Oracle’s effort will be to provide training to teachers and cohorts of instructors, both live and virtually, on computer science and coding. Unlike some industry-sponsored certification programs in K-12, Oracle’s training is not meant to show educators how to use Oracle products, but instead to give them broader skills that can be used in different contexts, with different technologies, she said.
Building teachers’ skills will in turn help develop a new generation of students with literacy in computer science and coding, she argued.
Students “have to know how technology works,” she said, but they also “have to know how to create technology–not just how to use it.”
Support for computer science, and coding in particular has come from policymakers around the United States, elevated by business leaders and nonprofit organizations who see increasing students’ skills in those areas as critical to enhancing their understanding of technology and their job prospects, and strengthening the economy. European officials foresee similar benefits.
“Digitally skilled professionals are critical to Europe’s competitiveness and capacity for innovation,” said John Higgins, the director general of Digital Europe, in a statement accompanying Oracle’s announcement. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen the demand for workers with computer science and coding skills grow by 4 percent each year.”
Oracle’s channeling of funding for training within the EU “will help strengthen our digital economy,” he said.
As coding’s star has risen in K-12 schools, the movement has also drawn criticism from those who see various approaches to teaching it as too shallow and failing to offer a rich understanding of computer science. Others question how prepared teachers are to teach coding effectively–a shortcoming the Oracle project seems keen to address.
Its common for companies working in technology and other areas to use their financial largess to call attention to and build public favor for their brands. And there is certainly a potential business upside for Oracle through the European computer science project, Derbenwick Miller acknowledged. But if students and other consumers choose to recognize and reward Oracle and other companies for their support of coding and computer science, she does not see that as a negative.
“When you look at what millenials are looking for” from organizations, corporate social responsibility ranks high on the list, she said, adding: “The weight that the market places on this kind of work is increasingly important.”