Education Matters

In a recent Q&A session, Bill Gates was asked by a 17 year-old what he could do to improve the world now or in the future.  In his answer, Gates emphasized the need for global citizens to address the issues of health and education in poor countries, two of the world’s most pressing problems:

“I also hope your generation focuses on helping poor countries solve their health and education problems.  The more people see themselves as global citizens rather than being focused on one country the better.”

Global Problems Trifecta: Food, Health and Education

There are three main problem areas that need immediate attention in the world today: Food, Health and Education.

Food is the fundamental building block.  Without basic nutrition you really can’t do anything.  There are many wonderful organizations having a real impact on world hunger today.  According to World Vision, the number of hungry people has dropped from 24 percent in 1990 to 14.3 percent today.  Much of this success can be attributed to non-profit organizations led by people who have a heart for solving world problems.

Take Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) for example.  This volunteer-based organization has produced more than 200 million meals in fiscal year 2015, and has experienced 48% year-over-year growth since 2003.  There is still much work to be done as an estimated 842 million people regularly go to bed hungry, but organizations like FMSC are having a real impact.

After having food in your stomach, in order to function, you need to be healthy.  The Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation and many other non-profits are doing a great job addressing many of the world’s health issues, such as malaria, pneumonia, tuberculosis and HIV.

Education – Who Will Meet this Challenge?

How about education?  Yes, there are many organizations working on that too.  Take Ubongo for instance.  This African edutainment organization figured out that the best way to get kids interested in education is to make it fun, so they use entertainment as a vehicle to get their attention.  They also figured out how to address the access problem prevalent in many developing countries by using technologies that they already have.

Ubongo was founded by Nisha Ligon, a great example of a global citizen and entrepreneur leveraging technical innovation to address the educational needs of the world.

It’s a Global Issue

Now, let’s travel from the African continent to South America, and take a look at Brazil as an example.  Despite its stature as the world’s 7th largest economy, Brazil is plagued with social and economic problems, much of it having its roots on inadequate education for its more than 200 million citizens.

A recent article in Exame magazine illustrates the extent of the problem.  The article cites the result of a research conducted by Instituto Paulo Montenegro and Ação Educativa in 2015 in which two thousand people were tested.  The astounding results show that only 8% of the Brazilian population is proficient in its native language, Portuguese, and math.  The study also shows that 27% of the population is considered functionally illiterate.  To make matters worse, no progress has been made in the last 4 years.

But it’s not only the developing world that struggles with education.  In the United States students are graduating from college with debt in the tens of thousands of dollars, and sometimes over a hundred thousand dollars.  And yet, after making this significant investment, about half end up unemployed or underemployed.

Starting one’s adult life with a negative net worth with no real prospects of turning it around, as is happening to many young Americans today, can only lead to a life of financial struggles and lower standards of living.  The expectation for this generation of Americans is that they will not achieve the same standard of living as their parents did – a true tragedy considering how many past generations lived the American dream of having a better life than their parents.

So how do we solve the educational problems that continue to afflict the world?  How do we help the poorest African nations educate their young as they try to bring them out of poverty?  How do we address the educational needs of emerging countries like Brazil, which despite its vast natural resources, and an industrial base hungry for qualified workers, can’t make any progress on the educational front?  How do we bring back the hope of the American dream to a new generation of Americans whose prospects seem worse than their parents’?

Entrepreneurs at Work

I believe the answer is entrepreneurship.  Where bureaucratic governments are failing, entrepreneurs can make a real difference. The world needs more entrepreneurs like Nisha Ligon of Ubongo who have a passion for education and who can garner resources to achieve results.  We need people who can leverage technical innovation to make education attractive to young kids and adults alike, and who can reach deeper into society using ubiquitous technologies that are already in use.

The good news is that this is already happening…

When you look at the work of Khan Academy, Ubongo, Codeacademy, and so many other organizations that are making a real difference in education, hope starts to flourish again.

When you reflect on the potential of Massively Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and the effort of many universities, with initiatives like Stanford Online, who are opening their courses to the masses for free, you start to believe again.

When you open your mind to new ways of teaching, as captured in the movie Most Likely to Succeed, you start to imagine the possibilities again.

When you realize how many brilliant entrepreneurs are behind the efforts of newly formed EdTech companies like Udemy, Coursera, Udacity, NovoEd, and numerous others, you start to see the light again.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Lao Tzu

Education matters. It is the building block of an individual’s growth and the fundamental cornerstone of a civilized society. If you want to make a difference in the world, join or support an entrepreneurial effort to create innovative solutions that bring education to the masses.

I am very excited about the positive and disruptive impact that technology can have on education.  It’s a worthwhile cause with unlimited entrepreneurial potential.

David Espindola – Founder

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