Premium content from Puget Sound Business Journal by John C. Gardner and Gifford Pinchot III, Guest Columnists
Date: Friday, May 25, 2012, 3:00am PDT
As entrepreneurs, we’d like to relay a hot tip — education is rapidly becoming an attractive sector for opportunity. Think school will continue to stay frozen in time? Look out for startups like the Kahn Academy, Minerva, edX, and Coursera.
One of the driving forces creating the heat is the growing importance of being able to learn quickly, and effectively. Information is being created at a staggering pace, making much of what we know irrelevant or proven faulty as we learn more. Further, new knowledge needs rapid assessment against our values and cultural norms. And much of that is not coming through curricula, but conversation — in person, in groups, online — constantly.
It is the widening gap between learning and education where the entrepreneur steps in. We’ve come to expect improvements in goods and services. Communications, food, transportation, energy, homes, and health — all have seen dramatic achievements in cost, quality, and/or choice as these sectors created a virtuous innovation cycle. From first-hand experience, we know it is difficult to establish a similar culture of renewal in education. Fortunately, change is coming.
First, we see a growing awareness and understanding of the extent of the problem. For the first time in U.S. history, the next generation will be less educated and prepared than the last — tomorrow’s educational needs overwhelm yesterday’s methods. Just consider our blinders in continuing to think of education only in terms of a “school,” the “school day,” the “school year,” and the “school years” of our lives. An entrepreneur sees the opportunity in creating educational systems between these huge cracks.
Second, there is growing recognition of what to teach. We aren’t advocating for a loss of the classics, nor technical schools. Rather, a focus on the fundamentals during our formative years with rigorous communication, research, collaboration, math, science, context, ethics and self-knowledge skills. These are followed by the rapidly changing application skills required, and available, throughout our lives as technology, and our jobs, evolve.
Third, there is serious examination of how to teach. To not recognize the importance of the teacher, nor supporting the teacher, has been an omission that is just now getting the attention it deserves. In addition to the teacher, the power of peer students in a learning community is also being recognized. Probably the secret sauce of the old one-room schoolhouse, students as teachers and learners have power. Studies repeatedly reveal that students shoot higher to achieve for their peers than for most teachers.
We are also finally beginning to tap the power of computer technology, not for the benefit of the school, but for the learner. Let’s flip the classroom — watch the lecture as many times as needed on your own time. When you meet in class, receive individual coaching, practice and solve problems with your teacher and peer students.
Education as a sector has enormous barriers in breaking from the status quo. In what other sector do we risk experimenting with our children’s well being? In what other sector do you have to launch startups under the scrutiny of stakeholders like elected school boards, teachers unions, alumni and elected officials? And, in the case of higher education, where do startups wait a decade to receive market-ready credentials for their products?
Fully knowing these risks and rewards, let’s vigorously pursue entrepreneurship in education — let’s turn up the heat. We have the wisdom and tools to improve what, and how, we teach. But perhaps the greatest motivation for us is why. Washington, the nation and the world need the influence, the freedom, the conscience of knowledgeable citizens. Now, that’s changing the world for good.
JOHN C. GARDNER is academic vice president and dean, and GIFFORD PINCHOT III is president/co-founder, of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, a private, non-profit business school start-up with a focus on sustainable business. This article was recently featured in the Puget Sound Business Journal.