Here’s another thing I’ve learned at SXSWedu. Remember this quote? “Every education system in the world is being reformed at the moment”, said Sir Ken Robinson so wisely about 3 years ago at his famous TED talk (watch it below). Yet these world education systems don’t really matter. What matters is the American education system. That’s the system that’s having a problem, that the market for educational technology and if we solve the American education system’s problems, then we will most likely help the world.
Or would we?
You might think I am wildly exaggerating, after all it was an American and theoretically regional conference (SXSWedu). But after a while in this industry, even beyond one event or the other, I get the same feeling I get about all those movies where the aliens always land in the US and communicate in English.
America is the world, and the world is America. But seriously, though many of the illnesses which characterize the sick education systems around the world are similar, the American education system has its own problems. Not always shared by other markets or states around the world. Unfortunately, due to market size and financial potential, the “edtech” industry is way too obsessed with the American problems. I happen to think it’s actually globalization that would guide us through and advance us towards a real revolution, even for the US. For example, many excellent universities, Nobel-Prize-Winners-producing universities, are located outside the US and cost a fraction of what a parallel university would cost in the US. 3 such universities are located in Israel.
But it was the edtech industry that caught my attention during SXSWedu. I found that too many companies try to deal with the American common core standards, a term relevant mostly to the US education system (EU have their own core standards), and with the over priced higher education, again, mostly an American phenomenon. The competitiveness that is felt through the American education system, that “College Starts at Kindergarten” – again one of my favorite Ken Robinson’s quotes, all those are driving hundreds of companies to create yet another app to teach math and reading to preschoolers, those poor kids who should be playing in the sand.
I haven’t met enough companies in this industry attempting to solve critical problem that happen in more than a single country. The appeal is always directed at the never ending American market. I mean – “math skills” – that’s something all parents all over the world want their kids to have. Explaining perhaps why relatively many companies concentrate on Math. It’s so easy, it’s language agnostic, and all education systems around the world are trying to come up with a trick that will make kids not only like math but actually succeed in it.
But there are very few companies who attempt at the basics of the education systems problem. For instance, how to personalize education; teaching techniques or curriculum development for the needs and abilities of the individual student. Or how to create a tool that would offer guidance into self teaching, which in my opinion is the top goal any education system should have.
So education systems around the world are still trying to reform. They attempt to insert modifications or use smarter tools, while doing the same things over and over again: they concentrate on teaching math, sciences, reading comprehension, literature – not on teaching kids. They do coach kids in taking tests and might actually prepare them for the next phase of chewing study materials and doing tests.
But no revolution yet.
Innovation in education is left in the hands of individual teachers. Take that note.