Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy wants to use the Internet to develop a new way of educating children.
In an exclusive interview on CNBC and cnbc.com, McNealy said this new venture, called Curriki, would allow experts in various fields to contribute articles, ideas and comments to a Website that would be free to schoolchildren looking for information on a particular topic.
The Website is currently up and running, and will be expanded to full-course curricula that students can use to supplement classroom instruction.
The project is intended for students in grades kindergarten through 12, focusing on math, science, technology, reading and language.
"I'm not sure you'll get K through 12 kids to spend more time learning than they will hanging out with their buddies on MySpace," McNealy said.
"This is an opportunity...for kids to go at their own pace on their own subjects on demand," he said. "(It's) also a chance to allow kids from around the world to get access to the best teaching materials for free when the cost of a math textbook can be over $100. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could bring that cost down?"
Curriki is based on open-source technology, a "wiki" that's intended to make it easy to post materials online. When users view the resoruce pages, they are able to comment, edit and string together content to create a lesson, course or complete curriculum.
The project will be expanded to include bulletin boards, blogs and podcasts in an effort to extend collaboration between contributors and users to improve the teaching materials.
McNealy co-founded Sun Microsystems and became chief executive officer in 1984. He stepped down as CEO last summer and turned the day-to-day operation over to Jonathan Schwartz, his hand-picked successor. McNealy now devotes his energy to what he calls "eco-friendly computing."
In 2004, Sun started the Global Education Learning Community, known as GELC, in an effort to drive the sharing of knowledge and develop the resources needed to improve education worldwide. It became Curriki.org. a growing community for developers, teachers, educational institutions now working on about 300 projects.
McNealy said students without Internet access could print the material on Curriki for less than the cost of a traditional textbook.
The digital textbooks aren't intended to replace traditional classroom teaching but to augment it by putting up-to-the-minute knowledge at each student's fingertips. Community members will be encouaged to review, edit and revise the material.
Falling hardware prices, increased performance and faster connections at a better price mean that anyone with a browser can become a writer, editor and publisher. Curriki's publishing tools are intended to simplify the process of creating content and making it easier for others to find needed information. McNealy said the project is a step into the "participation age" as we leave the "information age."
In the future, Curriki materials will be translated and adapted as needed to create localized versions.
In the "participation age," McNealy has said education should be open, accessible and community-driven. He said the more corporations, non-profit organizations, teachers and individuals with key knowledge collaborate to break down barriers to access and expand educational opportunities, the greater the chance for future innovation in all fields.
This could help eliminate the "digital divide" that now separates middle class kids from those whose families can't afford extras in education.