Last week, as part of the Imagine Cup award ceremony, Hal Plotkin, the Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary of Education, praised Microsoft for its commitment to STEM education with its hosting of the global student technology competition. Plotkin encouraged other companies to step up and invest in these sorts of endeavors. As the projects submitted to the Imagine Cup must tackle the UN’s Millennium Goals - poverty, hunger, disease, infant mortality, environmental destruction, and so on - it’s not just good for the U.S. education system, it's good for the world.
Microsoft is not the only corporation involved in promoting STEM education. Earlier this year, MindShift profiled the Change the Equation non-profit, through which companies like ExxonMobil, Dell and Lockheed Martin have supported science and technology education. Intel says it's spent over $1 billion on education projects. And just last week, Google announced the winners of its first online global science fair, just one of the many programs that the search engine giant has undertaken to help encourage budding scientists, engineers, and programmers.
Corporate sponsorship and funding is seen as necessary to help boost the programs that oftentimes schools can't afford. That seems to be particularly true when it comes to student competitions and science fairs, as these sorts of "extracurricular" projects are often on the chopping block when schools look to streamline their budgets.
But what are the implications of having students engaged in corporate-sponsored science? In the case of both the Imagine Cup and the Google Science Fair, participating students were required to use Microsoft and Google products respectively in their projects. Of course, students don't often have a choice when it comes to the technology they get to use in the classroom. If your school has Windows computers, you use Windows; if your school runs Macs, you use Macs.