September 1, 2000
old and wise,
what they tell you to,
want the devil to
and poke out your eyes.” – Supertramp, School
I was writing the column on Brain Currency last time,
where I argued that the value of your company increases
at a slope greater than one for every really smart
person you hire, I had a nagging thought.
And that thought was - how do we cultivate
really, really smart people?
I mean, it’s great to say, go out and get them.
But how can we ensure that we create enough of
other columns/rants of the past, I have obliquely
referred to the education system and fixes that need to
be made. It’s
about time I ventured a few suggestions about exactly
why need to fix education and what we need to do to get
is surely going to stir some debate and I invite it.
I’d like to see how passionate people are about
education and especially how it relates to a thriving
technology industry in Canada.
couple of reasons that I might be qualified to ramble on
the subject of education:
My wife is a teacher (and she finds discussing my
work VERY boring… so guess what we talk about
I helped start The Brainium while at Multiactive,
which found me attending learning resource conferences,
discussing IT in learning, and selling educators on the
merits of licensing our web site.
My son (and eldest child) is going to
kindergarten on Tuesday.
All of a sudden, this public education thing is a
high priority. It’s
my son’s brain that they will be playing with for the
next 18-20 years. A
hundred questions pop to mind when I think about what is
best for him. How
will they properly arm him with knowledge and experience
for the rest of his life?
I’m serious when I say that it is frightening.
have argued in the past the education may be more
important than health care to the well-being of our
people will be healthier because they know how to be
proactive and prevent many types of illness. If we are
more educated (“smarter”) than other locales, then
we can create opportunities that bring other smart
people to us. I
know its sounds a bit utopian and/or egalitarian, but
the reality is that society, as a whole, will be better
off if the people, as a whole, are more educated.
So how do we start to cultivate more smart people
This is the 30,000 foot view of education and the
ability to make sure that we all benefit.
The 1,000 foot level of education as it applies
to our technology industry is more about how do we
ensure that smart kids get even smarter and aren’t
read recently that a profound shift happened in
education in the 1950’s.
Up until that point, education for children was
The teaching methods were oriented around making
sure that kids knew their multiplication tables, the
capital cities of all 50 states and how to speak Latin.
In the latter half of the century, educators
started to emphasize fundamental building blocks of
knowledge that could be applied to solving problems. More than Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic, the new form of
education was teaching kids how to learn, not what to
general, this was a good thing and it has lead to more
enlightened teaching styles.
there has been discussion about how to teach kids to be
prepared for the New Economy, or knowledge based jobs.
This implies that kids are taught trades or get
job training in school.
In the West, we have stuck to the general theory
that kids learn general subjects and not specific
trades, at least not until well into high school.
Eastern cultures have tried different techniques,
specifically the practice of streaming kids from a young
age towards certain fields.
I’m not sure that our society will ever allow
the practice of reviewing a six year old’s
capabilities and then deciding their future career path.
In practice, it probably works nine times out of
the lack of self-determination in that practice and
pursuit of liberty and happiness in our culture prevents
it. I bring this up because the current discussions about
“preparing” kids for new economy jobs starts to
sound a little like streaming.
Should kids be learning basic computing skills at
a young age? Definitely.
Should we start teaching software development or
web publishing to elementary school kids? Hmmmmm.
Tougher one to answer.
Should all high school kids understand basic
physics, biochemistry and electronics in order to
prepare them to be engineers?
Ummmm, sounds a little less libertarian.
Should we de-emphasize the Arts more than is
Since I am speaking to a tech crowd here, this
might not get as many people howling, but…
than imposing streaming on young kids, our education
system needs to change to allow kids that are excelling
in a certain area the ability to learn far more.
It is self-selected streaming, where the child
chooses to explore a subject area more and gets the
resources and the teaching to go further.
And they pay no penalty for falling behind in
other areas, as long as they have basic skills.
Imagine a 9 year old that develops a keen
interest in electronics.
In the current education system, they are forced
to learn about many other subject areas that do not hold
their interest. Can this 9 year old be self-streamed into learning math,
physics and chemistry to better understand how
thing that has to change is the full embracing of the
collaborative environment of the Internet.
It is likely that a child can find other kids and
teachers around the world that share similar interests
and learn from communicating with them.
Little Jodi may not have anyone in her class that
really likes acoustics, but she might find Dr. John Ford
on the Internet and get involved in the acoustics of
marine mammals with he and his staff.
Unfortunately, the educators today are still
being taught that they are the oracle of education and
not the facilitators of education.
Teachers will always need to engage students face
to face to get them motivated to learn.
But the tools emerging today will fundamentally
change how kids learn.
we change the education system?
Can we adapt some of these concepts?
we have all come to understand about education is that
despite the best intentions of a society and the
planning of a government, the education you receive is
far more dependent on who is teaching it to you than any
other factor. If
the teacher sucks, you don’t learn as much.
If the teacher is amazing, the students soar.
Change in the system begins with the teachers.
If they are unwilling to look at new ways of
teaching, possibly even throwing out old models, then we
won’t get far. In
B.C., the unions are too strong.
The teachers are too comfortable with the status
quo. Teachers that stink are not thrown out in a system
that values years of service over quality. This will be
tough to change.
not just the teachers that need to change.
The government needs to be smarter with how they
fund education. There
is severe bloat in the school boards.
There are not nearly enough learning resources,
especially if we are to let kids self-stream into
different areas. Computers
and the Internet are not pervasive as collaborative
the system needs some prioritization. Which means that the unions will have to be bent a bit.
Who has the political will to do that?
the parents need to change.
We need to be able to recognize what are kids are
really excited about and have the resources to act.
Where do parents turn when they feel that their
little genius needs more challenging learning?
How can that be made reasonably fair and
equitable across income levels?
would be very interested in a healthy debate about the
future of our education.
I don’t want to wait until my children have
passed through the system.
As a parent, I want them to have the best shot at
succeeding in a world 20 years from now that is
completely different than the one today.
Techno Charity – Seeing Abatis CEO John Seminerio on
the cover of the Province this week, thoughtfully
donating a computer to a little girl with brain cancer
made me think of two things.
1) John better get an unlisted number, because
everyone with a sad story will be calling him now and 2)
we have more and more people around here with money and
therefore, potential for a great deal of philanthropy.
There is a new group called Social Venture
Partners that was born in Seattle and has more and more
chapters around the world.
A Vancouver chapter is just getting started.
What Social Venture Partners does is use the
venture capital approach to committing time, money and
expertise to not-for-profits.
The fund raises money from individuals and
business and then looks to achieve positive social
change through its “investments”, as opposed to
If you want to learn more, email Rich Osborn, one
of the organizers of the local chapter at email@example.com.
What Do You Think? Talk
Back To Brent Holliday
Something Ventured is a bi-weekly column designed
to supplement the T-Net British Columbia web site with
some timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight
into the industry. I hope to share some of the
perspective and trends that I see in my role as a VC.
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