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Cisco Systems, or Cisco is a global technology firm, with its interests concentrated on computer networking and hardware.

It is one of the most prominent commercial actors in educational technology, alongside Microsoft, Intel, Apple, HP, and Dell.

Lobbying for education ‘reform’

Cisco provides many education products and services: ‘solutions’ to help schools make the transition to Common Core State Standards in the US, for example; cloud computing and data services for schools; video facilitates and other digital tools for classrooms.[1]

At the same time, Cisco is extensively involved in efforts to reform education systems around the world, through technology.

It says:

Cisco is committed ... help reform and renew education throughout the world... We believe that the same technologies that created the internet and the information revolution have the power to transform education for the twenty-first century.’

It also believes that 'public-private partnerships will play an important role in the transformation of global education systems.'[2]

Cisco's lobbying efforts to reform education systems around the world are focused on areas such as thought leadership and strategic communications (aka public relations), as well as “building leadership capacity”.[3]

Below are some of the key projects Cisco has initiated or funded.

'Building leadership capacity'

Global Education Leaders' Partnership

Cisco initiated, funds and until 2011 managed the Global Education Leaders’ Partnership (GELP), a group of lobbyists for education reform operating across countries with a particular focus on 'innovation' in education, often through getting more technology into teaching and learning.

GELP is described as arising from a set of ideas in a series of Cisco ‘white papers’ published 2008-2010, which asserted that the current system of schooling is failing today’s students, and call for education systems to be ‘transformed’ through technology.

It could be seen as part of Cisco's efforts to 'build leadership capacity' in education systems to promote reform.

See Global Education Leaders’ Partnership for more.

Global Education Initiative

The World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Education Initiative (GEI) was a programme that ran from 2003 to 2011 with the aim of 'creating a technology-supported education model in developing countries'.

It was based on a public-private partnership model, with governments coming together with IT companies to reform national education systems. In practice, this meant jointly developing new content for teaching in core subjects, and implementing this new curriculum through schools that were provided with relevant ICT, and where teachers and technicians were trained in the technology to deliver the content.[4]

In the case of Jordan, for example, which was the first country to take part in the GEI programme, it 'helped stimulate the establishment of a Jordanian education software and e-content media development capacity; developed a first generation of e-content in six content areas; began the process of training teachers, principal and other school personnel in the use of ICT to support e-learning; and accelerated the investments in connectivity.'[5]

According to WEF 'much of the initial impetus for the Jordanian reform programme came from the ICT, rather than the educational side. In other words it was not driven by the desire to raise standards of education. 'Our big impetus was to grow the competency of our IT sector,' said the programme director in Jordan. 'We were looking at it as a way that Cisco could contribute to our IT sector.

Cisco has, in fact, been credited with initiating the entire programme, which also ran in Rajasthan, Egypt and the Palestinian Territories. A concluding report in 2012 states that the GEI began as an idea put forward by Cisco:

The idea for the GEI was conceived and launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2003 during the Governors Meeting for Information Technology and Telecommunications. John Chambers, Chief Executive Officer of Cisco, along with many other CEOs present, proposed creating a collaborative partnership between business and government to transform education. He suggested that the partnership begin with Jordan as a pilot country, complementing the discussions that H.M. King Abdullah II Ibn Al Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan had with several CEOs at the Annual Meeting about creating a new education-based initiative in his country. In March 2003, senior government leaders from Jordan and senior executives from Cisco met in Geneva and developed the concept of what became the Jordan Education Initiative. Three months later at the Forum’s Extraordinary Meeting in the Middle East, the World Economic Forum Jordan Education Initiative (JEI) was formally launched by H.M. King Abdullah and several senior business leaders.'[6]

According to Cisco, GEI showed the role the private sector can play in bringing about a 'paradigm shift in education' and led to the following impacts:

  • World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Education (2014-16): this body brings together 'global thought leaders from the public and private sectors' to form a 'partnership to address the challenge of ensuring access to quality education for young people around the world'. It is chaired by Michael Barber; co-chair was Cisco Corporate Affairs SVP Tae Yoo. According to a 2010 Cisco briefing, the Council chartered a 'Commission for Education Transformation' to develop the platform for the G20 meetings in November 2010, which was partly based on Cisco's 'Learning Society' whitepaper.[7]
  • World Bank Education Partnership: Cisco and other GEI partners contributed to the World Bank’s 10-year review of their education sector strategy. Cisco also co-sponsored the 'Teacher Technology Education Online Curriculum' Project.
  • Partnerships for Education (PfE): Launched in 2007 to promote partnerships in education. 'With help from Cisco and Intel', UNESCO launched a PfE portal (; no longer live), based on Cisco's platform (also no longer live) at the 2010 World Economic Forum meeting.[8][9]

Pushing technology into schools

Brussels and the EU

Cisco is one of many corporate partners in the Future Classroom Lab, a project of European Schoolnet, which is supported by 30 education ministries and many corporations. The Classroom Lab is a physical space in Brussels and a virtual environment with six ‘learning zones’ that allows visitors - policy-makers, companies and teachers – to ‘explore the essential elements in delivering 21st century learning’.[10]

Post hurricane Katrina

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Cisco worked with schools districts in Mississippi and Louisiana to, in Cisco’s words, ‘revamp their long-term priorities and improve student performance by introducing technology to classrooms.’

The $80m programme (in cash, equipment and Cisco staff time) that ran till 2009, called ‘21st Century Schools Initiative’, equipped schools with the internet and interactive tools, trained teachers to bring those tools into teaching and coached school leaders.[11]

New York City

In 2008, Cisco and the New York City Department of Education launched NYC iSchool. (IBM did similar in 2011).

New York’s iSchool is heavily orientated towards technology, with all classes involving some form of online study.[12] According to Cisco it is helping New York City’s leaders with ‘their 21st century education agenda by leveraging technology to equip students with the skills needed to thrive in the global knowledge economy.’ [13]

Cisco also funds New York City Education Department's iZone initiative, which has seen a small number of schools in the city - 'Lab Schools' - try to reform how they teach, often through the use of more technology and other measures.

During the iZone’s first year, Cisco provided funding and training. Teachers came to Cisco offices in Manhattan for several all-day sessions covering a variety of classroom technologies — including tutorials on teleconferencing with outside experts, using PowerPoint presentations, and making videos. Cisco also sought to learn from the schools, sending teams of engineers into their classrooms to see how teachers and students used digital technology.'[14]

iZone was also launched with substantial input from the UK's Innovation Unit and its head, David Albury, who also leads the Cisco-funded Global Education Leaders’ Partnership.

It is used as a case study for 'innovation' in education around the world. For example, it was showcased in the 'Shaping the Future 3' conference held in Israel in 2015, which was sponsored by Cisco, Microsoft, Intel and others.[15][16]

Victoria, Australia

Cisco has a long-standing relationship with the State of Victoria Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Australia. For example:

  • 2005: the state rolled out wi-fi across 1700 schools using Cisco technology;
  • 2008: Cisco – alongside Microsoft and Intel – became a partner in the Department of Education’s ‘Ideas Lab’, which aimed to encourage new thinking about ‘education for 21st century learning’.[17]
  • January 2010: Cisco and the Department signed a memorandum of understanding for ‘systemic education reform to help improve learning outcomes for underprivileged students at more than 1500 schools.’ [18]
  • September 2010: Cisco won a major contract which saw the Department standardise on Cisco equipment throughout its operations.[19]

Pushing changes to what is taught and how

The sell: '21st century skills'

Cisco is a founder member, along with Microsoft and Intel of the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) project, which ran from 2008-2012, which aimed to ‘transform education for the 21st century’.

ATC21S sought to define what pupils needed to be taught today - commonly referred to among reformers a ‘21st century skills’ - as well as how to test pupils’ skills (assessment being seen as a central means of changing what is taught and how it is taught).

According to the project:

what is learned, how it is taught and how schools are organized must be transformed to respond to the social and economic needs of students and society as we face the challenges of the 21st century.

The three technology giants sponsored research and ‘mobilized the international educational, political and business communities’ around this 21st century skills agenda. The project summarises the 21st century skills, broadly, as: communication and collaboration, problem-solving, IT literacy, creativity and ‘innovation’.[20]

Cisco is also a founding member of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (formerly the Partnership for 21st Century Skills), or P21, which was founded in 2002 to lobby for the ‘21st century skills’ agenda.

Getting a 'foothold' in schools

The Cisco Networking Academy is Cisco's 'largest corporate social responsibility program'. Since 1997, it has provided courses in IT networking to nearly 4m pupils in schools in 165 countries.

It is described as an 'educational outreach program that has grown deep roots for the company in communities across the world.[21]

Cisco justifies the investment in the programme for the following reasons:

  • there’s a huge gap in terms of the number of technologists we need and the numbers that are coming out of school.
  • creating this program was something that Cisco uniquely could do.
  • 'it was also good for business. It has produced more students who understand what to do with networks, and has also demonstrated what networking can do.'[22]

There are clear benefits to the company, as Amy Christen, Vice-President of Corporate Affairs, Cisco explained: 'Networking Academy has actually given us a foothold in some countries before they have become markets for Cisco... So, in the developing world, we’re often benefiting the community before we’re there as a commercial entity.'[23]

Reforming the teacher workforce

Teach for America

Cisco is among many corporate and right-wing foundations that support Teach for America, an organisation that has received criticism for its efforts to ‘privatize, voucherize, and generally dismantle free and universal public education in America’.[24]

Cisco tops Teach for America's list of corporate donors, giving the organisation more than a $1million in in-kind or pro-bono support.[25]

Teacher development in African countries

Cisco – alongside Microsoft, Intel, again, and the World Bank Institute – says it has helped education officials develop policies in a number of sub-Saharan African countries, as well as helping to implement ‘ICT-enabled teacher development programs’. According to Cisco, Government officials from nine countries – Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda – participated in the programme in September 2009. [26]

Cisco is also a major funder to the e-Schools programme of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), through which it promoted the use of digital education content and teacher training in Algeria, Ghana, Mauritius, Rwanda, Senegal, and South Africa; and pushed for the installation of internet access and satellite connectivity in schools in these countries.[27]

Cisco has also funded the teacher development Teachers Without Borders

Teacher quality in Mexico

In 2009, Cisco and the Secretaria de Educación Publica ran two pilot programs at the middle and high school levels, ‘as a model of systemic transformation’. The pilots, according to Cisco, focused on ‘teacher quality, accountability, and 21st century skills’. [28]

Political lobbying


Cisco has actively lobbied politicians in the UK, EU and elsewhere, including:

  • Cisco met with the Prime Minister David Cameron in June 2015. According to the government's records, the discussion was on 'Digital Delivery of Public Services'[29]


  • Phil Smith: CEO, Cisco UK & Ireland; Smith is also chair of the government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK
  • Peter Cevenini: education and workforce development lead for the consulting arm, Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) in North America.

Former employees


Cisco employs the following lobbying firms in the US (as of 2015):

Cisco employed the following lobbying firms in the UK:


  • Website:
  • HQ: 170 West Tasman Drive, San Jose, CA 95134
  • UK office: Floor Park house 16-18, Finsbury Circus, London EC2M 7EB


  1. Schools, Cisco website, accessed November 2015
  2. Transforming Education: Public-Private Partnerships for Education, Cisco website, archived webpage from May 2010, accessed November 2015
  3. Global Education Program Overview 2010, Cisco website, accessed November 2015
  4. Global Education Initiative - Retrospective on Partnerships for Education Development 2003-2011, Page 14, World Economic Forum, 2012; accessed November 2015
  5. Global Education Initiative - Retrospective on Partnerships for Education Development 2003-2011, Page 14, World Economic Forum, 2012; accessed November 2015
  6. Global Education Initiative - Retrospective on Partnerships for Education Development 2003-2011, World Economic Forum, 2012; accessed November 2015
  7. World Economic Forum Global Education Initiative, Corporate Social Responsibility Program Brief, 2010
  8. World Economic Forum Global Education Initiative, Corporate Social Responsibility Program Brief, 2010
  9. Transforming Education: Public-Private Partnerships for Education, Cisco website, archived webpage from May 2010, accessed November 2015
  10. Future Classroom Lab, website accessed November 2015
  11. 21st Century Schools Initiative update 2013, Cisco website, accessed November 2015
  12. The New York iSchool: reinventing the high school experience, ‘‘Guardian’’, 7 June 2015
  13. Global Education Program Overview 2010, Cisco website, accessed November 2015
  14. School Reform for Realists, Strategy + Business, 28 August 2012
  15. page 22-23EdTech Minset, special edition, 2015
  16. Partners, Shaping the Future 3 conference, June 2015
  17. Cisco joins Victoria ideas lab project, ‘‘ITnews’’, 1 September 2015
  18. Global Education Program Overview 2010, Cisco website, accessed November 2015
  19. Cisco wins Vic Education deal ‘‘Delimiter’’, 6 September 2015
  20. ATC21S website, accessed November 2015
  21. Brunswick Review, Brunswick Group publication, undated, accessed November 2015
  22. Brunswick Review, Brunswick Group publication, undated, accessed November 2015
  23. Brunswick Review, Brunswick Group publication, undated, accessed November 2015
  24. Harriet Rowan, Wisconsin Budget Includes $1 Million Taxpayer Giveaway for Well-Funded Teach for America, ‘’PR Watch’’, June 27, 2013.
  25. Donors, Teach for America website, accessed November 2015
  26. Global Education Program Overview 2010, Cisco website, accessed November 2015
  27. ICT in education initiatives in Africa, infoDev, accessed November 2015
  28. Global Education Program Overview 2010, Cisco website, accessed November 2015
  29. David Cameron meetings with external organisations, April to September 2015