It's not often Condoleeza Rice and Bill Gates walk the same stage passionately espousing the power of technology and the need to embed it within education. It's not often you are lucky enough to be in the room.
Last week I was. Two great speakers from wildly different backgrounds passionately calling the delegates at ASU-GSV to arms to create more inspired education. Love them or hate them, their passion for better, greater, more inclusive and effective education is hard to argue or question
The event is the Davos of education technology and attracts over 3,500 teachers, educators, technologists, CEOs, startup founders, policy makers, students and investors. It is a chance to learn, network, create opportunities and connect with some of the greatest thinkers and doers in edtech.
You don't hear that much about edtech, but you increasingly will. The global education market is now worth $4.4 trillion and is the second largest industry on the planet only slightly behind healthcare, but it has digitised as a glacial pace. Passionate startups providing services as diverse as financial education, tutoring and coding skills are growing in number and the global, and UK domestic ecosystems are growing in size and investment
Innovative schools and universities have been experimenting with alternative pedagogical methods (our brand new flipped classroom for financial education for example) but the sector is, for the most part, slow moving, skeptical and bureaucratic. Most students still learn with chalk and talk - a model which has moved from the blackboard to the whiteboard but not much further
But change is afoot. And it can't happen a moment too soon.
Properly deployed edtech can play an important role in ensuring that in this knowledge economy every person has equal opportunity to design their future as they wish. Like a train - you can get on while it's stationary or you can run and try jump on board while it is in motion. The earlier you get on the more securely you are tethered when it picks up speed and the easier you will adjust to the coming twist and turns.
Education is getting on the technology train, the only question is... how fast?
Automation has and will continue to eat through jobs and industries. Despite arguments from the technology evangelists who proclaim that as many jobs will be created as are destroyed, the argument, increasingly, does not stack up. Nor is it new - it was 1930 when John Maynard Kaynes proclaimed a "new disease.. technological unemployment" - we are simply facing a faster moving cycle - one which will impact all jobs; from paralegals to telemarketers.
Which brings us back to Dr Rice and Mr Gates and their passion for education. For them, and countless other speakers, education is at the core of two arguments; changing hearts and minds but also cold hard economics
Michael Moe, Co-Founder at GSV, in his opening remarks told us it is estimated that the US national economy would gain dramatically from improved test scores. 1 in 5 American high school students can't read and only 32% of US high school students are proficient in math - if this rose to 49%, the rate in Canada, the US economy could expect 1% GDP growth each year.
Greater education, and increased standards, translate into real increases in income for individuals and the nation as a whole. On the other hand people who struggle with these, basic skills, are going to find the doors of the 21st century workforce closed to them. The gap will get wider.
America, long known as the land of opportunity is in danger of seeing the American Dream becoming just that. A dream. Social mobility, the notion that where you've come from won't determine where you go, is increasingly not true.
Aristotle said that "Inequality is the parent of revolution" and frustration with this new reality can be seen clearly in the current political climate. If the rich get richer, and the poor become more indebted, and whole swathes of the citizenry feel left behind it is unsurprising people are angry. It should surprise few that the politics of fear and resentment have taken a foothold in the US and elsewhere.
Guaranteeing success is impossible, guaranteeing opportunity is not. If we are to ensure that every person has an equal opportunity to participate in the future, ASU-GSV's stated goal, then we need to figure out how to marry the best of the technology with the best in pedagogical innovation. Then we need to embrace it, deploy it and make sure it works.
At the heart of all education is a superb, passionate teacher and the ripple effect of amazing teachers can spread across the world not just across the classroom. THAT is the role of technology - to make outstanding education personal and effective. To bring it to corners of the world that don't have the learning opportunities we take for granted here in the UK.
Innovation cannot be halted and it can not be denied so let's us it to ensure that all young people have the knowledge, skills and tools they need to create the life they want. And let us begin today.
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