Whenever we want to discuss the future of our schools, we should start with the fundamental question: What actually is the purpose of education? For me, the purpose of education is this: To help kids flourish in life, no matter what happens.
If we accept this goal – or don’t totally disagree with it – we can easily see that there are massive challenges facing our current education system, and possibly the biggest challenge is the increasing amount of uncertainty.
We all know that the world is changing fast. We have heard it so often that it has become almost a cliché, but that doesn’t make it untrue.
When two massive megatrends – digitalization and globalization – collide, or at least occur side by side, anything can happen. Whole industries can disappear overnight and new ones can be born just as fast.
There have been estimates that hundreds of millions of our current jobs will disappear by 2030; some estimates increase the number to two billion. It doesn’t mean that new ones aren’t born to replace them, but it means that learning new skills throughout our lifetimes will most likely be necessary and not just confined to our formal education years.
It means that lifelong learning skills is not just a ‘nice to have’ thing, but a necessary requirement.
At the same time the World Economic Forum (and many others) is listing skills that are needed in the workplace in 2020. Among them are things like complex problem solving skills, creativity, critical thinking, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility.
When we analyze our current schools, everyone seems to agree that this is not the model or ideal system we have built – on the contrary. All around the world education systems have been built to the ideals of the industrial age.
Our schools are based on a top-down model where individualism is not encouraged. Everyone studies more or less the same things, at the same pace. You learn things by heart, you don’t question them. And the higher the grades you get, the more likely you are to succeed in life.
Unfortunately this is not the reality the next generation faces.
So, if and when we accept that the purpose of schools is to help kids flourish in an uncertain world, we have to agree that we need to change our education system to encompass this, and we have to change it fast.
Everyone everywhere agrees with this, but no one knows how to make it happen.
Where Are the Übers And Airbnbs of Education?
The world is full of industries that have been facing the same challenge – a desperate need for a disruption – and more often than not it has happened. Facebook and Google have revolutionized the media industry; we now have Amazon retail, Über transportation, Spotify music, Netflix television and Airbnb accommodation. Most industries have expanded and transformed to the new climate.
But what about education?
The need (and the possibilities) is the same but there still isn’t a single example of a global education success story.
Why is this the case?
Many people in the education world say that education is different because every country and every educational system is so different.
But is this really the case?
It is definitely true that there are many differences between systems and countries at the moment, but when you speak with people (such as teachers) who are working on the frontline of education you come to realize there are also a huge amount of similarities.
The problem is they are not heard. Education is happening in silos. Every country is a silo, every state is a silo, every city is a silo, every school is a silo.
There are gatekeepers everywhere, most likely more than in any other industry.
When you ask about new innovations from the gatekeepers controlling the education system, it is highly likely that they will say that ‘this and this would never work in our country’ – even though teachers would actually love it.
All of this is understandable. If you had asked governmental officials whether people would be willing to use Über or rent their own apartment to a total stranger, the obvious answer would have been negative.
Education is a fragile ecosystem and we have to be clever when developing it, but at the same time it is way too valuable to be left without the energizing effect that a healthy competition between great innovations can have on a global scale. Great innovations are happening all over the world and the best ones, once validated, can spread fast.
If we do not allow or enable this to happen, we will be left with a system that is not serving its core purpose in a fast changing world.
Spreading Education Innovations
EdTech has been a hot topic among VCs all over the world yet, as mentioned earlier, there have been few success stories. This is understandable. In too many cases EdTech companies are formed by people who are outsiders in education – they don’t deeply understand what works and what doesn´t.
There is a saying that you can’t actually be EdTech – ‘if you are ed, you don’t get tech and vice versa : if you get tech, you don’t get ed.’
Another interesting aspect is that in most industries the disruption has started from Silicon Valley where there is money, entrepreneurship skills and technical know-how.
But unfortunately the American education system is having its fair share of problems, and education may be one of the few industries the US and Silicon Valley don’t have an advantage.
That is why we cannot leave the important task of revolutionizing the education industry to Silicon Valley. In order to make the change happen in a relatively short time, we all have to take part in this challenge.
We have to start trusting people who know what works and what doesn’t work, and they are the people who are in the classrooms daily – our teachers. And we have to create a genuine global marketplace for ideas and innovations to be shared.
This is what we are trying to do at HundrED. Instead of pushing new untested ideas into schools, we concentrate on the ideas that are already out there and seem to be working.
In short – we identify great innovations in K12 education and then we evaluate, document, package and share them. We have selected 100 innovations in Finland and are in the process of selecting 100 great innovations globally.
And the good news is, to slightly misquote William Gibson, ‘The future of education is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.’ The Übers and Airbnbs of education are already out there. We just need to let them spread across our borders.
We have to create an ecosystem – a network of forerunner teachers, and create a model and a market where great ideas can travel freely from country to country.
It might mean bypassing some of the gatekeepers of education, and it may sound scary, but the alternative is even scarier.