What *will* change everything.

Posted on 04. Feb, 2009 by jon in Education, Revolution

africaEvery year an organization called The World Question Center posts a question to society’s leading thinkers. It’s known as the “Edge Question” and it’s one of my favorite things to read. This year’s question in particular is awesome:

What will change everything?

The sub-question was “What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?” and the answers are fascinating to read. One in particular that struck me was the answer of Chris Anderson, Curator of the famous TED Conference. His answer? A Web-Powered Revolution in Teaching. And if you’re a long-time reader of this blog you’ll notice that it sounds very familiar.

Consider this passage:

Five years ago, an amazing teacher or professor with the ability to truly catalyze the lives of his or her students could realistically hope to impact maybe 100 people each year. Today that same teacher can have their words spread on video to millions of eager students.

Compare with this blog post on eduFire from back in April of 2007:

Entrepreneurial Education refers to opportunities for scale similar to other industries. Top performers in other industries reach thousands or millions of people with their “content.” Top performers in education often reach only hundreds or dozens of people each year. In a world of Entrepreneurial Education that is ludicrous.

Here’s another passage from Chris’s answer:

For one thing, the realization that today’s best teachers can become global celebrities is going to boost the caliber of those who teach. For the first time in many years it’s possible to imagine ambitious, brilliant 18-year-olds putting ‘teacher’ at the top of their career choice list.

We’ve been talking about the concept of rock star teachers for some time now in blog posts like this one, this one and this one. In fact we’re even hosting an eduFire virtual conference this weekend titled Turning Teaching into Rockstars. Assuming you won’t actually be at TED you should attend! :)

Finally, one more piece of evidence that our frequencies are aligned:

But a young girl born in Africa today will probably have access in 10 years’ time to a cell phone with a high-resolution screen, a web connection, and more power than the computer you own today. We can imagine her obtaining face-to-face insight and encouragement from her choice of the world’s great teachers. She will get a chance to be what she can be. And she might just end up being the person who saves the planet for our grandchildren.

If you’ve read our very first blog post this might ring a bell:

Just a decade ago it was hard to imagine a child in Africa growing up listening to the best lecturers from Harvard and MIT. Today, with things like the sub-$100 laptop and mesh networking we’re almost there. The power of that idea is immense.

The next Einstein might be growing up in Madagascar right now.

The next Oprah might be a kindergarten girl in Sierra Leone.

I hope Chris is right. And I think he is. There are times when what we’re doing at eduFire feels like Woodstock. It’s like everyone is looking around at each other and realizing that this could change everything. And of course not just what we’re doing. What other kick-ass startups like Grockit and LiveMocha and TeachStreet and WizIQ and countless others are doing.

I’m reading Banker to the Poor right now and to be completely honest, it’s setting my hair on fire. What Yunus did was go into an area of the world where there was poverty and oppression and little hope and through his innovation helped to empower thousands and lift them out of poverty. Education offers the same opportunities. It already has lifted millions out of poverty in places like Singapore and India. And we’re just getting started.

It’s why we do what we do. Because we wholeheartedly agree with Chris. If we’re right, this will change everything.

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  • Excellent blog! There are a lot of people that have that affect on people but chose other careers than teaching in the schooling environment. Many of them are managers or business owners. These are the teachers that have an effect on not only the individual but also the country.

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  • This was really excellent. It's interesting to note that what other intellectuals are telling today was way before told on one of the blog posts here. Another thing I'll like to point out is that recently I saw a mobile-phone ad in which the whole village was being taught by mobile using it's video feature. Really, the world is changing faster. Finally, I'll like to say that ya, I too feel education has the power to change everything.

  • Jon, Great post. Banker to the Poor changed my life, literally. Since reading it almost 6 years ago, I've worked for a microfinance organization (Unitus), traveled to India and the Dominican Republic (a trip to Africa is in the works) to see micro-entrepreneurship in the works.

    After this work and travel and meeting tons of amazing people, I've gotta say that more than anything I believe that education is really the key to unlocking a new and better future.

    Keep up the awesome work Jon & Team Edufire. You're doing good work for the planet!

    Katie Gruver
    TeachStreet.com

  • Absolutely, the power of the internet and technology is radically developing our perceptions of what is possible in the field of education and learning. But, far more radical than 'a web-powered revolution in teaching', is the concept of 'a web-powered revolution in learning'. I don't think it's just an issue of semantics...

    With unbounded access to information and knowledge, the internet effectively does away with the necessity for the to-learn-you-need-a-teacher hierarchy based on accreditation, examination or academic achievement. This is not, however, 'dumbing down' - the whole knowledge arena is continually moderated and regulated by an entire, voluntarily interested and motivated global community - a perfect example of intellectual equity.

    The learner is less reliant than ever on "an amazing teacher or professor with the ability to truly catalyze the lives of his or her student". Their learning is in their own hands - they may or may not choose to seek out that amazing teacher or professor - or any of a million other resources that can contribute to his or her individual path of learning. This realisation will be the thing that impacts the most in the next 50 years. Everyone can be a Rockstar teacher in some aspect of human knowledge, but everyone is born an autonomous learner. The biggest deal of all is that people will finally start to realise this.

  • Jon, this is so true, and millions all over the world are feeling it. I'm learning more from students than I could ever hope to do in a formal classroom. Prof M. Wesch also talks about classrooms being antithetical to learning, most are designed for a one-way information dump. The true value of technology to learning will only be realised when everyone on the planet has access to the same knowledge, guided and mediated through shared experience.

    This is real, it is happening and it *will* change everything!

  • Turning teachers into Rockstars begins with finding human catalysts to create those "Aha" moments in the classroom. It seems that this is the thing that automated tutor platforms miss, let alone the entire lack of interaction. It's entirely one-sided. Edufire is something that I can see not only taking off in strides globally, but also presenting an online space where teachers can witness the "Aha" of one child saying "Now I understand." Well done, Jon.

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