The Role of Technology in Education: Andrew Essex at TEDxSudeste


Translator: Jim Taylor
Reviewer: Denise RQ I want to begin by apologizing for speaking in English
or rather not speaking in Portuguese. It’s somewhat ironic, I feel like
a one-man cultural imperialist. (Laughter) But what I’m speaking about today is a very universal problem
that transcends language, and I think that it could be
spoken in sign language, frankly. We all know the T in TED
is about technology, and I’m obsessed with technology,
I’m a techno nerd, I love gadgets, and I’m particularly obsessed with mobile. The problem with technology,
particularly at events like TED, is that we see a lot of great stuff – I was just at the Long Beach version
of TED, mind-blowing stuff – but we rarely put it in the context
that relates to in history. So I thought I’d give you
a history lesson, a brief history of mobile
communication innovation. But don’t worry, I’m an American,
I have a very limited attention span, so I’m going to do this history lesson
in three visual cliches. It all started about 200 years ago, you’ve seen this image a million times –
not particularly interesting, a couple of kids talked to each other,
and the audio wasn’t that great. Maybe 200 years went by,
and we got to this. We’ve all seen this cliche too, we needed an image to represent modernity for a master of the universe and that happened to be a mobile device
that was the size of your head. Fortunately, that isn’t around anymore,
and now we’ve arrived to this, and this is the reigning visual cliche
for mobile innovation at the moment. We all know what this means,
we all know what this signifies. I think that’s a great thing,
we’ve come along very fast, and we all know we live
in exponential times, that more has happened in the last two years
than the previous 200 years. Things are rapidly proliferating
in the mobile space. What did we learn from this? We learned a lot of things, some you’ve heard
from the previous speakers things that are far beyond my paygrade, but one thing I take away from this
is that kids benefit from Moore’s law. Kids are actually benefiting from the rapid and exponential growth
of mobile technology. Someone in this audience used
the term ‘edutainment’ before – the confluence of education
and entertainment. Kids now, four-year-olds to 14-year-olds,
all have mobile devices, they also have smart phones, so we’ve got this smartphone revolution – how tech is making kids
smarter everywhere – a cover story in Fast Company Magazine. You all know the details 175,000 apps alone on Apple,
1.2 billion dollars in revenue. And what’s fascinating about that is that a meaningful percentage
of those apps are education-based. While education apps account for
only a sliver of iPhone sales now, it’s still a pretty meaningful sliver, they could reach 20 to 25% in coming years
according to Business Week. Don’t take my word for it. What do I know? Many, many, credible people
are in the mobile ed-space. This is Sesame Street. I hope Sesame Street is
profoundly important in Brazil, as it was in my childhood. Sesame Street is
in the mobile education space now. Nokia and Pearson have
a mobile learning institute shaping the future
of teachers and students through mobile technologies
and 21st century skills. It’s fantastic, isn’t it?
It’s just a great thing. This is a new company
that was just bought by the owner of Netflix
called DreamBox Learning. “Math opens doors for kids,
DreamBox opens doors to math!” Here’s a little video I think enjoyed
a couple million views on the web. It’s a three-year-old using an iPhone. I would have brought the image
of my own three-year-old, but I couldn’t figure out
how to get it into my presentation, but three-year-olds
can navigate smartphones now. And to me, this is the most
profound thing that’s happened in the last 100 years or so. I don’t know if anyone knows
what this is, but that’s Barbie. How many people have
a Barbie doll, in this audience? Just out of curiosity. No shame in that. (Laughter) Unless you are 48-year-old man. (Laughter) But for me, Barbie –
my daughter has some Barbies – Barbie is about basically
teaching our daughters to be anorexic, blonde, bubbleheads. (Laughter) But this is a real Barbie, and I had my colleagues
white out what’s around her, but this is a “I Can Be
Computer Engineer Barbie Doll.” This is real, I didn’t make this up. It’s a new Barbie that came
on the market about four months ago. What you don’t see in this image
is that Barbie has a laptop, she has a smartphone,
she has a Bluetooth earpiece. Isn’t this great? Now instead of being a cocktail waitress, Barbie can be an engineer,
she can be an app developer. It’s fucking great. (Laughter) So again, don’t take my word for it,
here’s a quote from Sesame Street, “Just as Sesame Street
helped transform television into a revolutionary tool for learning
among young children four decades ago, advances in mobile technologies
are showing enormous untapped educational potential
for today’s generation.” So, here’s the good news, “In the future, learning is going to be
much, much more fun, unless you happen to be a student
in the American inner city.” That’s not supposed
to be funny, by the way. This is where the pivot changes. What we’re talking now about is the achievement gap
and the digital divide. So the point I’m about to make
is that the proliferation of technology, the amazing exponential
growth of technology, and the way it’s made
education fun for a certain set is leaving another set behind, at a rate unprecedented in human history. Cliche number 4: it sucks to be poor, especially if you are interested
in getting an education. We’re talking about the USA right now. You have your own problems, but I think it might be interesting
to illustrate our problems for a minute. We have a huge
achievement gap in the States. Fewer than half of Black males
are graduating from high school, and the average Black 17-year-old
reads at the proficiency level of the average white 13-year-old. Here’s a fantastic chart
to illustrate the achievement gap. If you factor in a lack of education, there’s a 76% [rise]
in incarceration rates, and a 98% decline in wages. So, if you don’t have an education, you’re 98% more likely
to not earn a living wage in America. And I would imagine
that’s a universal truth, but no one has yet discovered a scientifically tested, scalable solution
to close the achievement gap. To repeat my point, it sucks to be poor,
even more in the age of technology. Again, to reiterate this point, technological advances are putting
the underprivileged further behind. So what do we do about this? Well, at least some of our leaders
are pointing this out. “Right now, many students’
learning experiences in school don’t match the reality outside of school. We need to bridge the gap.” That’s our Secretary of Education,
and to that I would say, “No shit!”, but what are we going to do about that? We know this.
Unfortunately, we have a problem. If you go to any school in New York City,
you can’t bring in a mobile device. It’s referred to
as a cell phone, it’s illegal. It’s illegal to have an iPhone
in New York City school. And that’s at the kindergarten
to the fifth grade level, also at the sixth to12th grade level. “Bringing prohibited equipment
or material to school without authorization is illegal.” Once upon a time, people went crazy
when you brought a calculator into school, because it somehow
compromised the idea of learning. Now people are going crazy –
pedagogical authorities are going crazy – when people bring
mobile devices into schools. I think that’s a big problem, I think it’s a semantic problem, but let’s talk about why they’re banned. In New York City, most people think
phones are used to coordinate crimes, or that kids are just sitting there
texting to each other – partially, that’s true – but they do many,
many other things as we know. But here’s the debate
writ large on this big screen: parents are demanding that they want to know how to track
their students through GPS, other parents are demanding it because they know
these devices can make education fun. Even Business Week has opined,
“Get cell phones into schools,” but they’re still illegal in NYC schools,
and many other schools across the country. So partially, we have
the semantic problem here: is it time to retire
the phrase ‘cell phone’? If you have a supercomputer
attached to your ear, is it really a ‘cell phone’ anymore? Isn’t that what Michael Douglas
had in Wall Street? Let’s all agree to ban
the phrase ‘cell phone’ and talk about mobile devices, because again, what we’ll see
in two years from now will make this whole conversation
completely ludicrous. After all, is that a cell phone? Just to demonstrate
how education would be fun, there’s an app on this device –
I don’t know if anyone has one – that brings to life
the periodic table of the elements. I failed Chemistry over and over again. For me, Chemistry was the epitome
of the stultifyingly boring experience of being a public school
student in New York. The teacher couldn’t teach it,
the subject wasn’t interesting. And now if you click a button, you have an interactive,
three-dimensional representation of what sodium looks like, then you can interact with,
see with three dimensions; it makes Chemistry fun, ergo, the kid is more likely to learn
or engage with the idea of learning. I want to tell you a story now. So we’re talking about solutions:
is there any solution to this? Not long ago, I had
the good fortune to partner with a very important American
named Dr Roland Fryer. Dr Fryer is the youngest tenured
African-American professor in Harvard history. He is a behavioral economist. He wrote his thesis
on the economic consequence of naming your daughter Shaniqua. (Laughter) Quite seriously. He did something
somewhat remarkable in NY, he put through a program
based on student incentives. His theory is that we have
the supply side covered – we have great teachers, they are the most important thing,
they’re supplying things – but you need to work on the demand side,
to rearticulate to students why they need an education,
which is: to succeed. So he decided to give kids cash,
pure, hard cash. If you got an A or you maintained
perfect attendance, you got cash. The problem is a lot of these kids
are part of the great unbanked, or their parents are crack addicts
who can’t go to a bank and get cash, so we needed to do
something more dramatic. A brief went out from the New York City
Dept. of Education working with Dr Fryer who’s role was Chief Inequality Officer, and the question was,
“How can we brand achievement and make an education as coveted as
new Escalade or the latest Jay-Z DVD?” Thus, it was born something
called The Million, which was the first, incentive-fueled
mobile learning platform in America. The idea was if you got an A in school,
you maintained perfect attendance, you got minutes and text time
on your device, and education apps. It was launched in 2008,
in several inner-city schools in the toughest neighborhoods of Brooklyn, and I’ll show you a very small video
which captures that time. (Video starts) Roland Fryer: We’re
the richest country in the world, yet, we rank 20th when it comes to
math, and science, and our reading skills. [There are 1 million students in the New York City
public education system.] [ 37% will not graduate on time.] And Black and brown kids here are worse off than any other kids,
in any other developed nation. Narrator: To inspire students,
we must reach them as never before, by connecting with kids the same way
they connect with each other. To meet this challenge,
the Department of Education joined forces with Verizon Wireless
to create The Million. The Million phone is free,
but 100% incentive-based, whereby improved attendance,
participation, homework, and grades are rewarded with airtime for phone calls,
texting, music downloads, and more. Every two weeks, teachers distribute Million points
based on each student’s performance reinforcing the connection
between hard work and earned rewards. Susan Schaeffer: When I first heard
about the Million program, I was excited and apprehensive
at the same time. LJ: I was a little puzzled by the program,
intrigued by the program, but the kids were just so excited. [On February 27, 2008,
the pilot program launched in 7 schools] Girl 1: It’s a good opportunity
for us to do better in school. Girl 2: And it’s fun. Man: … the D.E.Y.,
and you’re one in a million. Sean Kingston: And you guys
are one in a million, believe it. TV Host: The city is moving ahead with what it calls
its Million motivation campaign, a pilot program, that officials hope, will push kids to get serious
about their education. (Video ends) (On stage) A Essex: I’ll just skip forward
because I’m running out of time here. So, proof of concept:
pilot programs like this work. More than 75% of the students
in The Million pilot program said that it impacted their school
in at least one of the following ways: they were working harder,
they were more competitive, and they interacted more
with their teachers. It won a variety of awards from Bill Clinton,
from the advertising community. Imagine what it could be
with smartphones. Of course, these things
are very, very expensive. But the New York City
cell phone ban continues, so Dr Fryer returned to Harvard
and created EdLabs which is an education
innovation laboratory built on testing
other pilot programs in the world. He was listed as one
of the 100 most influential Americans. This piece is written by Michelle Rhee who’s the Superintendent
of Washington D.C. schools, also another innovator in the States. And this subject was the cover story
of a Time magazine article just two weeks ago, “Should schools bribe kids?” A very interesting provocation
to discuss and then think about in the context of technology. So I’m just going to leave you
on one optimistic note. We’re continuing to try to put
programs like this through, in the States to demonstrate that they work, and we’re going to do this
this September in Oklahoma City an unusual place –
in some respects, an ideal place – a place with “chronic public education
woes, limited bureaucracy, and a unique mix of highly motivated
private and public figures.” We’ll give smartphones to 1,000 students, and if they maintain A’s
and perfect attendance, they’re going to get talk, text, and apps. Moreover, they’re going to start learning
how to create apps for their own phones, and this is where it gets interesting. I don’t know about you,
but when I went to school, there was wood-shop or auto-shop;
nice crafts to learn, but increasingly less viable
in the modern world. Imagine if you could take
a sixth grader in the inner city and teach him how to create, maybe through a templatized model,
an education-based app, something that he’d be interested in. So a kid in Oklahoma City
could share something with a kid in Rio, and perhaps even profit in that. Would that make school
more appealing to them? The goal we want is to create the world’s first, or America’s first,
student education network. Something of a radical idea. I will just leave you this quote
from Bertrand Russell, “It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope
that it so seldom achieves great results. The wish to preserve the past rather
than the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those
who control the teaching of the young.” I hope that you can spread this idea,
which is what TED is all about, and that we can bring together new ways to bring the underclass
together with technology and make learning more fun. Thanks very much. (Applause)

5 thoughts on “The Role of Technology in Education: Andrew Essex at TEDxSudeste”

  1. The science does not back up the claim that technology is making kids smarter. In fact, many parents, teachers, and neuroscientists are seriously questioning such claims.

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