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Solving skills crisis starts at preschool: Dr Goodnight

Byron Connolly | May 12, 2015
CIO chats to SAS founder, Dr Jim Goodnight

CIO: Which industries, in your view, are the best at using data analytics to understand customer trends and why?

Goodnight: Banking has been doing this for many years. Back in the '90s we had banks building predictive models around what to offer to customers and what interest rate you should charge for a loan. We are also seeing telcos now being able to use that data. Industries of all sizes and shapes are getting onto the analytics bandwagon to analyse their data and they are trying to find people to do it.

We've been on a fairly large program to try and produce more analytical-oriented people. We've made SAS available free of charge for educational purposes [since May last year] and we've had over 260,000 downloads so far.

We want people to be able to use SAS in their educational endeavours. We had seen some professors teaching 'R' because it is free even though it's not as good a language so I guess to compete with free we need to be free.

CIO: We have an ongoing IT skills crisis here in Australia, not enough young people are doing STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects. What is the industry doing wrong?

Goodnight: Australia is doing a better job than the US. If you look at the Pisa [program for international student assessment] score ranking, Australia in maths is number 19, the US is 34th.

This [poor performance in STEM] gets back to our educational system. We need to make sure we have strong maths and science teachers and perhaps we should pay those skill sets a little bit more money. In the US, every teacher gets the same amount of money based on how many years they've worked. The idea of differentiated pay is somewhat controversial to the teacher unions but it's something that's necessary if we are going to retain the best and brightest teachers in the STEM area.

We also need more preschool education for low income families. A low income child who has been raised by a single parent has a much smaller vocabulary, they haven't been asked 'what colour is this, what letter is this?' like middle and upper class families do all the time.

Educated parents want to educate their children and they play games with them all the time to get their kids [thinking]. Low income families don't do that. Because low income is also low education.

We've got to find a way to bring the low income children up to the level of some of the other kindergarten kids. You've got to start at some point and it won't pay off for 12 or 13 years. It's crazy to keep [offering] a remedial education to kids that have sort of half dropped out of school because they can't keep up. Let's start with preschool right now to make sure everybody has got a good start.

 

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