A friend recently asked me if I would be the type interested in colonizing Mars. It was a serious question. The rate of change we experience is this fast, right? Last century, we zoomed from horse to lunar landing inside of a lifetime. This century is no different. Multiple frontiers like artificial intelligence, genomics, colonizing Mars, and artificial animals are creating an even bigger delta between the world you experienced as a child and the reality we adults live in.
Education struggles to keep up. While most classrooms look a lot like they did two centuries ago, with rows of desks facing a teacher, what's under the hood is adapting rapidly. Here are 6 startups that are rewriting education:
"Kids face extraordinary challenges when they fail to make the transition between 'learning to read' and 'reading to learn,'" says Cynthia Kaye, founder and CEO at Alive Studios. When it comes to reading skills, only 33% of fourth graders are proficient, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Her company developed augmented reality lessons that help kids learn reading, math and STEM subjects.
When her own children were struggling to focus their attention in the classroom, Cynthia realized the classroom environment might not be stimulating enough for kids who spend free time with entertainment like Disney, Pixar, and 1,000 channels of Amazon, Netflix and iTunes. She tackled the problem head on and built a platform specifically designed to work in the busy classroom and within familiar lesson planning routines. "We have over 2,000 classrooms using our programs, including Cobb County Schools in Georgia and Ft Worth ISD in Texas. So, fast forward, we hope to have every pre-K and kindergarten classroom using our programs in America."
See a demo below of Alive Studios in the classroom:
Time Machine Tours
Kyle Hudson was a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He took his winnings and built an app. "I think for the most part kids are still taught today the way they were 100 years ago. History lessons are presented to them in big blocks of text and their eyes glaze over," he says. His program, Time Machine Tours, uses any photo to transform your environment into the past, virtually. It uses a combination of GPS, historical libraries of images, and math to pinpoint where the photographer in the past was standing in order to rebuild a "set" around you. "Time Machine Tours lets kids access and experience history in a way they've never been able to before," he says. Once you build a tour, it's available to other users. There are already tours for places like Chicago, Philadelphia and New York.
Emmie Chang, CEO and founder, believes robotics and coding are core skills just like geography, history or geometry. The current education system just hasn't figured that out yet. In a world of potentially superhuman AI, she's probably right. Her solution provides a series of coding and engineering project workshops from kindergarten through eighth grade, introducing core concepts like design thinking and cyber security. You can find workshops this summer through Camperoo, also founded by Chang.
Their motto is "you can learn anything." Words to live by. At just under ten years old, the nonprofit educational giant backed by Bill Gates and others keeps coming on strong. Fifty four million registered learners have completed over six billion problems at the last count. The textbook-free video content, offered in 36 languages, is continuously refreshed and updated by a staff of 130. Its courses range from the basic, to the over top. There is a whole suite of lessons in "math for fun and glory." Their mission is to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere--and they are well on the way.
Until this month, you had to fork over a piece of your company to get the lessons learned at top national incubators like TechStars, 500 Startups and YCombinator. Just this year, however, YCombinator opened their incubator online for free to founders and entrepreneurship aficionados everywhere. It's called Startup School.
If you're in the developed world, you probably haven't heard of Unicaf--but it just raised $12 million led by University Ventures to play a role in the online education revolution. Where Khan Academy offers free content, Unicaf offers not just content but full online college degrees from internationally recognized universities for underserved regions like Africa. As student VISAs get harder to come by, Unicaf is using technology make the physical classroom less relevant. More than 10,000 students are enrolled, there are lots of scholarships, and programs include top level education like a masters in law from University of South Wales.
Investing in education outcomes
"Simply put, traditional 'sage on the stage' lectures are less effective at inculcating learning than a dozen or more technology-assisted active learning models," says Ryan Craig, Managing Director of University Ventures, an investment firm re-imagining the future of education and employment. "Equally important, new technologies are measuring and tracking learning outcomes -- whether in the form of 'competencies' or results like college admissions or employment -- which allow us to increase investment in the most effective programs and modalities, and dis-invest in those that are failing. While we're still in the early innings of the transformation of the classroom, it's clear that the game is now underway."