“How will News Corp’s new Ed Tech business Amplify Education” appeared in GigaOm earlier this week. And many other sites and newspapers have given prominent coverage on this new company formed by News Corp in partnership with AT&T. Apparently, Amplify will swoop in with tablets, gamification, analytics, immersive and interactive curriculum to “disrupt” education.
The idea seems great and this is in line with the high uptake in Venture Capital (VC) interest in the K12 technology marketplace. According to this article, VC’s invested about $400 Million in education technology companies in 2012. While I welcome all this attention and investment in technology to improve education delivery and impact, I am surprised at the pace with which we are hurtling towards making education as expensive as healthcare! I will not be surprised if we end up debating the “Affordable Education Act” by 2020 (not again!).
According to the Economist, children here in the US have one of the shortest school years anywhere, a mere 180 days compared with an average of 195 for OECD countries and more than 200 for East Asian countries. German children spend 20 more days in school than American ones, and South Koreans over a month more. Over 12 years, a 15-day deficit means American children lose out on 180 days of school, equivalent to an entire year. My wife’s school going niece and nephew are perpetually on “breaks” and their parents struggle to keep them engaged. Now imagine the plight of families that don’t necessarily have time to keep their kids meaningfully engaged when they are not in school! On top of this, we outspend other developed economies only to lag behind in education.
In the book, The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin has written a wonderful chapter on the idea of “integrated thinking”. One of the case studies in the book is about Community and Individual Development Agency (CIDA) City Campus and how its founder Taddy Blecher, rejected the high-cost approach to education and instead embraced a low-cost self-sustaining model that doesn’t require anything fancy. Just the commitment to education (from the Teachers and Students) and the firm belief in the idea of paying forward.
Now that’s a game changing model. A model that will help resolve the perilous state of education in this country with Teachers being laid off and schools remaining closed to save money. I am not against technology and innovation, but can we first get some simple things right and focus on a sustainable and cost effective education delivery model?