Gates and Viacom 'get schooled'
BY SHAYA TAYEFE MOHAJER Associated Press
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
9/09/09 at 4:41 AM
LOS ANGELES — Students who might be too glued to their televisions to keep up with homework are going to find channels like MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon prodding them to get on task and graduate.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is partnering with Viacom Inc.'s television networks, education leaders and celebrities to launch an awareness campaign to reduce the number of dropouts.
"All too often, the value and benefit of education are not real enough to kids," said Tony Miller, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
The "Get Schooled" initiative focuses on low graduation rates in college and high school. A student drops out of an American high school every 26 seconds, according to the Seattle-based Gates Foundation.
At that rate, not enough American children are graduating high school and college to stay competitive in the global marketplace, said Viacom President and CEO Philippe Dauman.
"We don't know much about substance, we're about fluff at Viacom," Dauman said with a laugh. The Viacom chief, whose networks also include VH1, CMT, Spike TV, TV Land and Logo, said he told Gates a year ago, "We know kids, we know how to reach them; if you provide the substance we can be the megaphone."
To launch the five-year campaign, the documentary "Get Schooled" was set to premiere on all of Viacom's networks simultaneously at 7 p.m. CDT on Tuesday night.
The documentary features pop singer Kelly Clarkson, basketball star LeBron James and President Barack Obama, but the program's real focus is on people behind the scenes, like a presidential speechwriter, and how education brought them success.
Dauman said the "Get Schooled" initiative would find its way into plot lines and programs.
But "we're not going to go to all PBS-type programming," Dauman said. "In order to reach kids, you have to entertain them."
Activism is not new for Viacom and its networks. MTV has raised AIDS awareness, promoted participation in elections and led other initiatives.
The Gates Foundation, started by Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and his wife, has invested more than $2 billion in educational programs since 2000.
At an event to launch "Get Schooled," New York City schools chief Joel Klein said he was hopeful the approach would succeed because "trying to get traction with the millions and millions of kids in school is something that's been a challenge."
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates speaks Tuesday in Los Angeles at the "Get Schooled" conference and premiere hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Viacom Inc. Jae C. Hong / Associated Press