Is America’s entire education infrastructure as obsolete as the “buggy whip?” Is it possible that a short education story in Fortune Magazine and on CNN’s Money site will shake the foundations of America’s overpriced and underperforming education system? One can only hope.
A recent CNN/Fortune Magazine story entitled “Bill Gates’ favorite teacher” told an amazing story of how one young man is revolutionizing the delivery of knowledge over the internet. The site and method is so successful that Bill Gates and venture capitalist John Doerr have snapped to attention at the growing phenomenon of the Khan Academy, an on-line school providing sequenced curricula on a wide range of content – all for free.
The first thing that should come to mind as you read the article is the massive potential value of Khan’s idea, not to mention the value of the 1000s of imitators and innovators who will build on the foundation that he has built. The next thing that we should all understand is the pointless waste of today’s overpriced and underperforming education system.
The infrastructure of the Internet, combined with the 10s of 1000s who can produce and encapsulate the world’s knowledge into 10 minute sequenced segments, has made the entire massive infrastructure of the current education system potentially obsolete overnight.
The existence of Khan Academy should force us to question everything about how we will educate the coming generations of Americans. Will we still need teachers? Yes, but far fewer than what we have now. We will also need to redefine the word ‘teacher’ way beyond the borders of today’s limited, union-defined monopoly.
Will we still need brick and mortar schools? Probably, but far fewer than the massively wasteful infrastructure we have now. Spend a few minutes on Khan Academy’s site, and you realize that an I-Pad, smart phone, or similar device, combined with a network of independent learning centers, could revolutionize education in less than a decade – all for a fraction of the cost.
Do we need to worry about how we measure Mr. Khan’s Academy? Not at all. All we really need to do is have society decide on a broad set of standards and find an efficient way to measure the acquisition of knowledge. Envision a near future where a child can walk into a licensed testing center and take a test on any given subject matter. If they pass the test, who cares how they acquired the knowledge?
Examples for rapid innovation abound.
This is a baby/bathwater situation. Our nation’s children, talented conveyors of content (Khan, dedicated teachers, etc.), and a rational, fair assessment process are the proverbial baby. Everything else (teachers unions, administration, buildings, bond dealers, school boards, textbook cartels, etc.) are the bathwater.
The only real question for policy makers should be how to best transition from the current bureaucratized “legacy” system to one where a dynamic array of content providers delivers the what your child needs to know at the moment your child needs to know it.
The best avenue to manage that transition is to have most (say 95%) of the education dollar follow the child and having the remaining 5% go toward developing standards and the method for measuring up to those standards.
It is time to question the meaning of the words “education reform” and the investment in reforming the current system. Once the automobile was invented, there was no need for “buggy whip reform” or “horse turnaround plans.” Mr. Khan, and those like him, have exposed the current system for the obsolete monopoly that it is. This article lays waste to the idea of “reforming” the current system. The best thing we can do is rapidly manage the transition to an entirely new education model.