Jiva Technology

The scramble for a quality education

As education continues its journey from being a good thing in itself to being primarily viewed as the gateway to well paid employment, the scramble for entry to high quality institutions has intensified to the point where bribery and corruption has now become commonplace.

Perhaps its merely one step further in an arms race where parents pour money into camps, tutoring, books, websites and other educational resources. But somehow everyone agrees that the recent allegations of cheating and bribery to gain access to prestige US universities crosses a very important line. It’s not throwing resources at the problem of improving student performance; its accepting poor performance and getting prize anyway.

Parents are stressed and under pressure, worrying that their children will be consigned to the slow lane no matter their capabilities if they don’t get into the right school or the right college. Unsurprisingly, that stress is being transmitted to the kids themselves. The fight for places ends up as a fight being waged by 5 year olds, 7 year olds and 17 year olds.

We cannot allow this situation to continue. We need to find a more flexible approach to reduce the stress levels and frustration that have built up over the last ten years. We cannot allow the best resources to be cornered by those with the most money. And it’s not simply a question of fairness, its a question about economic performance in a knowledge-based economy and the ability to solve the big problems in our societies.

Flexibility inevitably needs to thoughts about technology. It simply has to be the case that with intelligent application, technology can make a major impact on the availability and quality of teaching for people at all ages, not just at school and university. So far, we’ve been making baby steps in that direction. Perhaps it’s time to turn them into giant strides.

On climate protests and school strikes

The school strikes and climate protests in the past ten days have kicked off predictable responses from the media and commentators; ranging from ‘good on ya’ to ‘go back to school’. Originating with a single Swedish school girl, what cannot be denied is that her protest struck a chord and has spread in meme worthy fashion across age groups, geographic boundaries, political and social classes. A conversation has been started, so what should the response be? Close it down or continue in a reasoned way?

A friend who teaches describes it as a classic teachable moment. It’s possible that the protest is a fad, but I suspect not. I think there is a genuine concern (as there should be) that insufficient action from the ‘grown ups’ will leave our planet as a barely lovable remnant of its former self. The balance of evidence overwhelmingly supports the existence of man made climate and in any case, who wants to take the risk?

It seems to me that a proper response is first of all to take the protest seriously, to understand the concerns and use it as a starting point in a much larger dialogue; whether this happens in schools or in wider society. It provides a platform to discuss what steps have been taken so far, not just in a political sphere, but by engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs. It provides a perfect opportunity to talk about the challenges that will be inevitably faced by 15-20 year olds, but also the role they’ll play in providing a solution. Todays’ twenty year old will be 50 by the time the real extent of the damage begins to unfold. We’ll need the best minds with the best skills to mitigate the damage that’s been done.

To my mind, the worst possible thing would be to close down the debate. There’s a reasonable chance that a lot of the current protesters won’t stay engaged in the topic, but that’s bad thing, not a good thing. Talking about the ideas and technology that is already in development, from electric car ‘skateboards‘ to carbon capture, plants that return carbon to the soil, high altitude kites that generate electricity; this is an amazing opportunity to fire young minds with an optimistic outlook on the future, not one filled with doom and gloom. And the ideas are not just limited to the field of technology and science. In the US, proponents of a Green New Deal are making their voices heard and young politicians like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez are a signal that times are changing.

There is an energy and enthusiasm around these protests that needs to be harnessed in a productive way; channelled into something that can live beyond a single day of protest into real action and the possibility of positive change.

Can you market a product by telling people not to buy?

About a year ago, I bought some new floor coverings. I would have said ‘carpet’, but it seems that things have moved on a little since I last bought floor coverings and, well let’s just say that there are quite a few more options to choose from. Like about a million different options. Wood floor, carpet, tiles, carpet that comes as tiles, tiles that look like wood. When you actually decide that you want wood floors, you have to decide on the timber and the width and the number of millimetres of actual wood on top of the underlying substrate. Time to go home and lie down.

The experience left me exhausted and was about as much fun as the first time I bought a fridge (no fun). But it did get me thinking about why, when I was clearly ready to buy, that companies made it so hard to buy from them. One company even suggested I hire someone to advise me on the purchase. Really?

What struck me was that in a world where every single product and service category seems to be massively over supplied, companies put the onus on me to make a selection. Which is pretty hard when you don’t do it very often. The onus was very firmly on me to determine the relevant merits of the 450,000 different options. Why is that? Part of the problem is that every product available seems to be marketed as high quality, low price and fabulous for the environment. There seems to be a lack of honesty in the communication. Its a bit like the modern footballer in a post game interview, “it was a good game and I thought we showed a lot of good touches and we’ll be learning from the mistakes we made”. No one said to me, “that won’t work for you”. Or in football parlance, “we lost because they were better”.

In a world where everyone is busy and everyone is being marketed to at all the times, I think the onus should be on companies to identify who they think should buy their products. Which in theory is what marketing is all about, but it seems to have got lost in the mix somehow. About the only people who seem to have got this right are the super cool street brands (and maybe night clubs) who make it abundantly clear that if you aren’t cool, don’t buy their product. Which means I won’t. But I like their thinking. We’ll both be happier knowing that we don’t belong together; it saves time.

Perhaps the best way to identify who should buy your product is to start by identifying who shouldn’t. For Tutorhub, things are relatively easy. Don’t use the service if you aren’t looking for tutoring. Don’t use the service if you find the online experience doesn’t work for you. For us, what we do is somewhat baked into the name and where you find us. Maybe from now on we could start a marketing movement thats focused on identifying who shouldn’t buy. It might work.

Our education system and why it has to change

Here’s a simple thought process. The UK’s statistical office estimates that babies born today have a 2/3 chance of living until they’re 100.

They’ll spend the first few years learning the basics, like sitting, standing, talking, learning language and manipulating objects with their hands. All the hard stuff. At around the age of 4 or 5, they’ll head off to school and stay there until they’re 21 if you include university, which is starting to look increasingly like school. At that point, they’re done with learning and they’ll head off to make a career or just make money. Or, depending on who you speak to, work like crazy to avert global climate catastrophe.

The first 20% of your life is spent learning things and then the next 80% of your life will be spent applying what you’ve learnt. Doesn’t this seem a little odd? Isn’t it highly likely that things change in the 60-80 years that follow?

I suppose the point is that we have an education system that was devised for a different age. It seems so blazingly obvious that things have to change, it seems strange that no one if talking about it more openly. It’s a nonsense to suggest that the current cohort of young people leaving school and university have learnt all they need to learn to cope with the world in 2050. For those that need reminding, that’s only 30 years away, or roughly half the time that those skills are supposed to sustain the current crop of school and university leavers. Isn’t it time to start deconstructing our education system, to rethink how things might be approached in a different way?

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