How the Ed-Tech Revolution will pan out

A recent Fast Company article explores how the tech revolution will change education systems, possibly making them more efficient and effective. As the author, Tim Brady (a partner and co-founder of Imagine K12, an incubator for tech companies focused on serving the K-12 market) writes, the past decades have seen an almost three-fold increase in the amount of educational spending per student, but this increased funding hasn’t resulted in any change in actual test scores. He asserts that, “it is clear that our education system–as currently designed–isn’t sustainable. Simply throwing more money at a system that produces the same results is, well, not smart.” Despite his lack of belief in the current system, though, he remains optimistic about the tech revolution’s possible impact in education, and writes:

In a perverse way, I believe federal and state budget cuts will help focus us on doing things differently and more efficiently. And while I don’t wish an underfunded and failing school on anyone, necessity is the mother of innovation. That is why I am optimistic about the ed tech revolution that is quietly happening in the background of all the political rhetoric about unions, teacher evaluations, and test scores.

The change, he believes, will take time and will occur both at school and in the home. He goes on to predict how he envisions this revolution panning out, which he articulates as a threefold wave of change:

First Wave (0 to 5 years from now): A Change in Perception

At School: In spite of all the media coverage about seniority-based firing decisions, the teaching work force is actually getting younger. According to National Center for Education Information, a full 30% of public teachers are now under the age of 30…This first phase of the revolution will see teachers become more efficient in their jobs by adopting web-based tools. While teaching can be a very rewarding profession, it can also be grueling. Teachers are asked to do things that take more hours than there are in a day. Much of what they are being asked to do is clerical work that can be automated away with good software tools. Ed tech startup companies are stepping in to supply this set of productivity tools.

At Home: The Khan Academy has brought the notion of self-paced learning outside of the classroom to the mainstream. Even my 68-year-old mother knows about Khan Academy. No longer will the computer at home be viewed simply as a device for games and communication needing regulation by parents. It will now also be seen as a device for learning inextricably tied to a child’s education. This small but important change in perception about the computer at home is a precondition for the second wave.

Second Wave (5 to 10 years from now): A Change in Purchasing and Empowerment

At School: Once web-based software becomes commonplace in the classroom, new distribution channels for selling into schools become possible. … In this second wave, a more efficient “bottoms-up” sales channel becomes possible. When dozens of teachers in a school district are using the free version of a web-based product, it’s clear that the product is effective and necessary. The superintendent will no longer need to solicit teachers’ input to know what they want and need. It is exactly how Yammer is changing the enterprise sales process. Superintendents no longer have to investigate what teachers want, nor do they have to “sell it internally” once it is purchased. This new bottoms-up channel makes the their jobs easier and their teachers more productive. The best products, rather than the best sales forces, will begin to win the day.

At Home: Online assessments, marketed to parents and organized around the Common Core curriculum, will become widely available online. Parents will be empowered to evaluate their child’s progress with these assessments. It will be a natural transition for parents to begin using the computer to assess their child’s progress once parents view the computer differently. Parents will no longer be beholden to the quarterly report cards, or the even more infrequent parent-teacher conferences, to find out how their child is doing.

Third Wave (10 to 15 years from now): A Change in Process

After a decade more of fiscal pressure at school and many of the changes discussed above, we will finally see widespread changes to our public school model. Schools will move toward one of a handful of models that better support the needs of individual students and reflect the fiscal realities of today.

…Furthermore, where learning at school ends and where learning outside of school begins will start to blur. The ubiquitous access to high-quality learning resources online will make learning a continuous process driven much more by the motivation of the student than by the dictates of a time-based school schedule.

In many ways, this new paradigm of education that Brady envisions can bring about a major shift from the so-called factory model of education to a more customized, individually-tailored model of education. As he writes, “We will fail fewer students because they will be more engaged, and we will lose fewer teachers to frustration. And that is an investment worth making.”

In the Indian context, this ed-tech revolution could bring about an even greater change, simply through making quality education accessible to a greater number of students in remote and hard-to-access areas. It will be easier to not only customize the lessons for students with different needs, but will also override barriers of sufficient infrastructure and resources, including teachers.

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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