Salesforce CEO urges public schools to build ‘resiliency,’ distance learning as coronavirus rages

Marc Benioff sees an opportunity to build resiliency in the public education system, as the raging coronavirus pandemic calls into question whether schools can reopen in the fall.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in mass school closures, with teachers and students relying heavily on remote learning.

Benioff, the billionaire tech chief and founder of enterprise software giant Salesforce (CRM) is a big supporter of public schools. He told Yahoo Finance in an interview that officials need to be prepared for the fall — especially if a dreaded second COVID wave swamps the U.S., which is faltering in its efforts to contain the first.

“I think we’ve got more issues coming. And we better be ready and build that resiliency now into our public education system,” Benioff said. 

The 55-year-old CEO who has an estimated net worth of $7.6 billion is a significant benefactor of public schoolhouses. Since Benioff made an impromptu public school visit years ago, Salesforce has adopted more than 100 public schools, and all of the company’s executives have as well.

The company’s involvement in the local public schools has yielded higher math scores and an increase in underrepresented minorities and women involved in computer science.

“We’ve given almost $100 million to our San Francisco and Oakland public schools. And right now, we’re about to make another huge distance learning grant to help get all those kids to be able to do those kind of distance learning that we see happening all over the world,” Benioff said.

With schools closing and students and teachers shifting to online learning, Benioff realized the public education system was filled with inadequacies. Currently, he’s co-chairing a task force in California to examine how to make public schools successful during the crisis. 

“When we shut down our schools, and shut down our neighborhoods, and shut down our cities, our teachers didn’t automatically go into pandemic mode, where they knew how to be able to teach remotely,” Benioff told Yahoo Finance.

“In fact, a lot of our kids don’t even have remote access, or remote broadband, or the technology at home. That’s where it’s really a crisis,” he added.

Yet of the large sums gifted to the public schools in San Francisco and Oakland, none of that money went toward remote learning, something Benioff lamented and hopes to address in the near future. 

“We were working on just basic math, and science, and courseware, and getting people to attend class, and infrastructure, and making our schools great. I didn’t realize we’re about to come into a pandemic, and our teachers we’re going to have to go to teach our kids remotely,” he explained.

“So we need to kind of go into a bit of a crisis mode right now and make sure that we’re there for our kids, so we’re able to get everyone back into the educational environment,” Benioff added. 

Julia La Roche is a Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. 
Follow her on Twitter.

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