Bill Gates on the Future of Education

Education is one of the biggest challenges for global development. This large challenge is by no means confined to the developing world (even though it is more acute there), and for the Gates Foundation, it has been one of primary areas of focus for their U.S. programs. In particular, they focus on how innovation can improve K-12 education so that graduating students are better prepared for college. In the focus on innovation to improve the education system, they take into consideration not only new technologies that can be integrated in the learning process, but also the innovation of systems and services within education. As they state in the description of the program:

We live in a globally connected, information saturated world. To thrive, our students need to learn in and out of school, in person and online, together and independently. Students need learning experiences that meet them where they are, engage them deeply, let them progress at a pace that meets their individual needs, and helps them master the skills for today and tomorrow.

This, naturally, is as applicable here in India as it is in the U.S., despite the fact that in other ways the two education systems are miles apart. And so, it seemed pertinent to share Bill Gates’ recent interview with Fast Company, in which he talked about the future of education and how innovation can play a role within this sector. Here too, many of the points he makes are specific to the U.S., but given the interconnected nature of the world, many of the solutions are just as relevant here as well.

At the heart of these solutions lies the concept of assessment – of both teachers and students, and even the school itself. As Gates said during the interview,

The foundation’s biggest investment, even bigger than what we’re doing to enable technology, is in creating a personnel system for K-12 teachers that lets the average teacher move up to be as good as the top quartile. Instead of just being in isolation and getting no feedback, you can be videotaped, you can have a peer evaluator advise you on your performance. When we combine that with student surveys and principals’ feedback, we can help teachers learn from the best.

Another dream would be to revolutionize [student] self-assessment, so that in any area–math, psychology, economics, whatever–you could assess your skills and know what you may need to learn. The ideal there is creating a skills-based credential that is well trusted and well understood enough that employers view it as a true alternative to a degree. You could unbundle the idea of “Where did you get this knowledge?” from “What knowledge do you have?”

That would unleash unbelievable open innovation. We see it a little bit today, where a dropout can bring in a sample of computer code and say, “I wrote this code, why do you care what grades I got or whether I went to college?” But that’s an extreme example.

Skills-based credentials would create a lot of transparency in higher education. You’d understand how much value schools add, so they can compete on that, as opposed to school-ranking algorithms that are about inputs, basically, and not about outputs.

Assessment, especially skill-based self-assessment of this type, isn’t something that most education systems take into consideration. Rather, lessons are based on a one-size-fits-all model, and students who don’t understand concepts can easily get left behind. An assessment-based education (self assessment and not tests) would mean that students can figure out what they’re doing wrong, why they’re getting stuck, and what area of study they need to focus on.

Moreover, peer assessment of both teachers and students is invaluable in creating a learning community where not only students but also teachers can learn from each other. This kind of community-development within the education system is another major gap that is only now being addressed. While individuality and solitary learning was the norm for a long time, educationists are beginning to realize the value of group-based, community-centered learning. In fact, some of the most promising new education startups, including DreamBox and BloomBoard (from among Gates’ own chosen five), are modeled to address this large gap.

About Ayesha Vemuri

Ayesha Vemuri is responsible for thought leadership and outreach efforts at CKS. She has undergraduate degree in Visual Art from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she also studied such varied subjects as biology, literature and the humanities. At CKS, she is responsible for curating the Design Public blog, managing our various social media platforms, organizing Pecha Kucha Nights and contributing to the intellectual content of the Design Public Conclave and other CKS initiatives. Find her on twitter at @ayeshavemuri.
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