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Celebration of Service

Thinking back to think forward

In Australia, Paul Digweed creates a program to help kids think into the future

When the call went out for IBM volunteers earlier this year, Paul Digweed put on his thinking cap, and pondered: What sort of future technology is going to be available for kids who are in school today?

In thinking about the future, he cast his mind back to his own school days, and found the roots of a program he has taken into the classroom in Sydney, Australia.

“I thought back 30 years to when I was in school, and I had to go to a secret dark room at the back of the playground to generate ticket tape to send to a university computer to get an overnight response,” he says. “It was at that point that I thought it would be really good to talk to the next generation about the amazing possibilities that will be available on a planet enabled by technological advances.”

Paul, who works for IBM Global Business Services in Australia, wanted to show schoolchildren the inherent possibilities available in business and technology. He approached Nicholson Street Public School, a local primary school, about doing a one-hour presentation for the students. The next thing he knew he was creating a 10-week program that explores the impacts of technology on humankind.

“From my consulting, I had a good understanding of Smarter Planet,” he says, “I figured I could use IBM resources to show the amazing vision of the initiative.”

Using materials and activities from the On Demand Community site, Activity Kits created for the IBM Celebration of Service, Watson and Smarter Planet videos, music, and good old-fashioned discussion, he went into the classroom and, in the first week, got 10- to 12-year-old students to think and talk about change and what technology might mean to them in the future. He played David Bowie’s song “Changes,” and then took the children on a journey that covered the technological changes of just the past three decades. Graphically rich video games, cell phones, the Internet (as we know it), Facebook—none of it existed 30 years ago.

“There was a massive ‘aha!’ moment when I asked the kids what they might want to do with their lives. Now, every one of them had been asked that many times, so we started looking at some of the jobs they desired. After we went through how the world is changing, they were amazed to realize the jobs that will be most in demand when they graduate might not even exist right now.”

Paul saw an opportunity to use the Smarter Planet initiative as a way to get the kids thinking about how they could use technology to improve their world. Australia—a country that has historically struggled with drought—is a nation extremely conscious of water usage, so he included a section on Smarter Water solutions.

“I wanted to expose them to real world issues,” Paul says. “It has been fascinating that the discussion in the classroom addresses the same issues as the boardroom with similar material.”

He says the volunteering has been a fascinating and challenging journey: “Discussing what makes up human intelligence, how we think and how that is different to the way Watson thinks leads to a world of possibilities.” He adds that the positive attitude of the children was a refreshing change from what he typically hears in the “adult world.”

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.