Its attention drawn by Maine’s middle-school laptop program, a Texas company said that it’s giving Maine schools software valued at $400 million to help the state implement its pioneering effort.

Electronic Data Systems (EDS), which announced the gift Nov. 7, also will make its software available to Maine high schools and the Maine Technical College and state university systems, so students using it will be better trained to work for precision manufacturers.

Maine Gov. Angus King said that to his knowledge, the gift—with a commercial value of $400 million—is the largest ever made to the state.

“It’s somewhat breathtaking to be announcing a gift of this magnitude,” added King, whose effort to make laptop computers available to every seventh- and eighth-grader attracted sharp criticism within the state even as it drew interest nationally and from other countries.

The governor hailed the donation as one that “gives us a fighting change to protect our manufacturing base.”

Hulas King of EDS, who announced the gift at a news conference with the governor, said it also was the largest gift the Plano, Texas, company has ever provided for educational purposes.

The EDS official said his company’s attention was drawn to Maine largely by the laptop program Maine’s governor has championed since he proposed it three years ago. The initiative came into full swing this year when computers started appearing in middle schools throughout the state.

EDS also was attracted by Maine students’ good performance in tests that measure academic achievement, said EDS’s King. He also demonstrated the software, which is used by 24,000 manufacturers, including 400 in Maine.

The cutting-edge software has applications in manufacturing, aerospace, medical technologies and other fields.

Many of Maine’s resource-based industries have given way to businesses that rely on advanced training, such as semiconductors and computer-aided boat building. Meanwhile, the state has taken steps to better prepare Maine students to embrace technology.

Wick Johnson of Kennebec Tool & Die Co. Inc. in Augusta, Me., said one of the biggest challenges for precision manufacturing industries such as his is “keeping up with the intellectual capital.”

EDS’s gift “really does open up the world, and a whole new world, to the students of Maine,” Johnson said.

Links:

EDS
http://www.eds.com

Maine Learning Technology Initiative
http://www.mainelearns.org