Betting on Education’s Long Game
By LeiLani Cauthen
When I was a young girl, we lived in an analog world. It was a different time. There was no Internet. No outside connectivity. Computers, such that they were, could be strung together in a network – but their capabilities were very basic.
Research was done in a library. Teachers held the bulk of the knowledge. Sometimes you could find a book with additional knowledge, but generally the teacher would decide what you got to learn.
Our largest companies didn’t exist yet. Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google all had yet to be imagined.
Telephones were all tethered by wires. Only millionaires had car phones. No one could have even predicted smart phones.
An educated person knew an agreed-upon body of knowledge that included literature, writing, mathematics, civics and science. College was more of the same with a concentration in one area.
At this point I’d like to tell you I had to walk to school six miles in the snow and it was uphill both ways, but you are probably already feeling sorry for me. Honestly, though, it wasn’t that bad. In addition to an agreed-upon set of knowledge, there was an agreed-upon school experience. Everyone knew what to expect. School had been done this way for over a hundred years, and it seemed there was no reason to change it.
But then the world changed.
We run our lives on a small portable computing device we carry in our pockets. This device, with a touch interface and multiple communication capabilities is 100,000 times more powerful than the guidance computers that took us to the moon and has over a million times more memory.
Our society is interconnected. All the world’s knowledge is available instantaneously through our portable devices.
Sophisticated technology allows us to have same day or next day delivery of virtually any product sold in the world.
We have drones for delivery, self-driving cargo trucks and machine intelligence.
And with all this amazing technology touching every part of our lives, our children are still required by the state to attend a government-funded on-location education system for up to 12 years at a cost of $700 Billion. This education system still relies on teachers to dispense knowledge and operates much the way it did when I was a young girl.
Many people are predicting the demise of public education. I am not one of them. In former positions, I worked in the software industry and then as a publishing executive in the education technology news media sector. In those positions, I learned much about both the strengths and weaknesses of the education business. It is very true that public education as an institution is painfully slow to adapt. In fact, if it weren’t for one undeniable fact, I might be in the corner of those naysayers predicting the fall of public schools.
Yet here it is: the public education sector is populated with bright, caring, mission driven individuals that are wholly engulfed in the belief that they can help children reach and find better lives. Many schools are highly innovative. Do we have our work cut out for us? Absolutely. Can public education survive? Without a doubt. Will public education change? The answer is yes, and it is making long strides even now.
Unfortunately, you won’t hear about these strides in the mainstream media. For the most part, education news in the mainstream media is little more than crime stories that happen to take place in a school setting. But for every gun found at school or drug bust in the parking lot, there are 1000 schools now using technology to change lives in ways that didn’t exist 10 years ago.
Companies like Microsoft, Ruckus, StrongMind, Canon and hundreds of others are helping schools transform the way we learn. At the Learning Counsel, we work with many of these companies, identifying their strengths and help school districts leverage these technologies for the benefit of their learners. It is a process. We conduct 30 regional events around the country each year where our team works directly with districts, helping them map out strategies to evolve their digital capabilities.
These events have given me the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and work side by side with our nation’s superintendents, principals, curriculum directors and technology folk. To a person, they have been dedicated to making the necessary changes to find equilibrium between the consumer world and the school world.
In the transition to digital, there are a lot of chip shots and puts, but many districts are now hitting the ball down the fairway. Education is a long course, and the game may last another millennium. But the players in education are in it to win. And I’m betting on the long game.
About the Author
LeiLani Cauthen is CEO of the Learning Counsel and author of The Consumerization of Learning.