Reimagine Education — We need a bigger imagination!

shadi post 3


I just returned from an interesting conference at Wharton on Reimagining Education attended by leading Universities and some EdTech companies from all over the world. I was delighted to be — for the first time — amongst academics that were eager for change.

While there were several examples of bold moves taken by some academic institutions — such as Deakin University’s embrace of Artificial Intelligence to support students at the Australian University — in general my conclusion is that there is not enough Re-imagining happening.

My view is that most of the EdTech innovations that are being developed by the academic world focus on enhancing a broken system. How can we assess students faster — digitally? How can we put students in touch with teachers on demand if they are having difficulties? How can we get students to grasp organic chemistry better through this app etc..

Are we sure that these assessments — grade tests — are really a pathway for good careers and a more prosperous future? Should we be investing more time and money on tutoring — than the 12 years of schooling we already invest? What is the percentage of adults that would make use of organic chemistry in their day to day life for us to force that into a high school curricula?

It is imperative that we really re-imagine the education system as a whole and ensure that all the investments of time and effort of our students have the best return. One way to address such a challenge would be to map out key skills and knowledge needed by the largest number of adults and ensure that those skills are taught at the school level to the entire student population.

After ensuring that students are getting the fundamentals which are important for them in their future day to day life, we can then go into more and more academic specialization across various disciplines. This way we give students an opportunity to choose the areas that they are most passionate about, so that they deep dive in these areas, while having already acquired essential life skills earlier on.

Here’s what I think are essential skills that should be taught to all students starting from first grade, and a justification of their importance.

Entrepreneurship: allowing students to come up with products or services that benefit others and in the process learn about the value of things around them while teaching them indirectly essential skills like team work, creativity, financial literacy, communication skills and more

Political Literacy: where students take turns in leading their classes towards the common good of their fellow students through a curated set of common challenges presented to them during the year. This helps prepare them to be responsible voting citizens that understand the issues facing their communities or countries

Sustainable Development: identifying innovative solutions to problems like economic development, equality, diversity and the protection of our planet

Logic and Coding: which are essential skills and a common language for the world as a whole so that we are able to manage the automation creeping in all around us

– Emotional Intelligence: which will become more and more important as machine interactions will surpass human interactions, thus giving us less natural settings to develop this innate skill

Arts: that includes design, music, photography, dance, drawing, drama, poetry and the like which have an emotional impact on us. This will become even more important as we are surrounded by more num machines that handle the repetitive and mundane tasks

As for the traditional curriculum, I believe it should be available on demand. Science, Math, Geography, History, Languages, Philosophy etc.. are important but when they are being taught within the context of the above topics, they become more relevant to the students and more understandable.

Another important re-imagining is in the teaching of these topics. As an example, science should not be taught in class but rather outdoors or in a lab, history can be taught through the production of interesting movies, geography through virtual reality and languages through music, cartoons and a virtual exchange with other students while they are working on a common project.

A critical element that needs to be included within the mandate of schools and under their supervision, is engagement with industry, universities and civic bodies. Students in early high school years should be gaining real life experiences. By doing so, we can ensure that the curriculum and student experience is continuously adjusting to the needs of the workplace and letting them explore where they are most passionate as they get closer to becoming productive citizens.

I believe that research based Universities — representing the majority of Universities today — should be competing with Industry on attracting the best talent who are passionate about research and academic pursuits. We still need researchers, academics and the like which the traditional university system can produce effectively, but it should be clear to the students what they are getting themselves into by joining such universities.

Today, we confuse students by letting them assume that if they get into University and invest an additional considerable amount of time and money on top of what they have already invested in their school days, they can have better career prospects. Some universities are doing the shift so that they ensure that they do provide those career opportunities, but the vast majority are not, and in my view, can not change fast enough. Companies like Udacity, and others will be a better route for job creation than such universities.

Even MOOCs’ hype didn’t last long since they didn’t reimagine education with enough boldness, but rather just tried to make a system more efficient. They took what was being done on campus and put it online — providing a huge increase in reach from what can be done on-site, but not enough to cause a positive disruption of the system.

So, while the academic institutions, governments and professors try to enhance their existing systems with incremental innovations, EdTech companies and a small number of bold academic institutions will be truly re-imaging education and in the process disrupting the whole industry.

I’m proud that we are part of the disrupters who are allowing their imagination to run wild with the aim of providing better return on the invested time in learning throughout life.

With the advances happening in accessibility, technology and the pressing need that exists in this 5 Trillion dollar market, the disruption will happen faster than ever.

Would love to hear your own thoughts on how we can re-imagine education as well as any feedback you have on the above suggestions.