This is a truly must-read article in the NY Times. Do you remember the letter by Bill Gates acknowledging that his impact on education was a bit dubious to say the least? It didn’t stop him from having a new idea for education, although personalized learning hasn’t much evidence backing it up yet (no, not really).
And the experiences by Bill Gates didn’t stop other Silicon Valley Billionaires for trying their own piece of solutionism for education. If you wonder what solutionism is:
- The belief that all difficulties have benign solutions, often of a technocratic nature. (source)
So we have Hastings from Netflix trying to use algorithms in education, Marc Zuckerberg aiming at education with less emphasis on the teacher but rather having pupils teach themselves, … Stuff that they probably think:
- that it will work,
- that it hasn’t been done before.
Take the example of the present emphasis on coding in education to learn e.g. general problem solving skills. The sad thing is: a lot of this actually has been done before and often failed. We bought the t-shirt and it didn’t fit.
The sole reason these people have their big influence is not because they are smarter than anybody else. Or that they have newer insights. It’s because of two things: a) they have a lot of money and b) they want to do something for the community. Oh, and often you can add a third thing: they are parents and want the best for their own kid(s) and all the other kids. Nothing wrong with these reasons and I have nothing against billionaires, but it can be both undemocratic (my opinion is more important because I’m wealthy) and dangerous (by reinventing square wheels).
In the article in the NY Times you’ll find more info and there is one paragraph I really needed to share, quoting Larry Cuban:
Captains of American industry have long used their private wealth to remake public education, with lasting and not always beneficial results.
What is different today is that some technology giants have begun pitching their ideas directly to students, teachers and parents — using social media to rally people behind their ideas. Some companies also cultivate teachers to spread the word about their products.
Such strategies help companies and philanthropists alike influence public schools far more quickly than in the past, by creating legions of supporters who can sway legislators and education officials.
Another difference: Some tech moguls are taking a hands-on role in nearly every step of the education supply chain by financing campaigns to alter policy, building learning apps to advance their aims and subsidizing teacher training. This end-to-end influence represents an “almost monopolistic approach to education reform,” said Larry Cuban, an emeritus professor of education at Stanford University. “That is starkly different to earlier generations of philanthropists.”
These efforts coincide with a larger Silicon Valley push to sell computers and software to American schools, a lucrative market projected to reach $21 billion by 2020. Already, more than half of the primary- and secondary-school students in the United States use Google services like Gmail in school.
But many parents and educators said in interviews that they were unaware of the Silicon Valley personalities and money influencing their schools.
Hence the undemocratic…