Can Bill Gates Save Our Schools?

So improving teaching is the biggest thing we’re doing. We have partnerships with school districts that are trying that out. It leads to a review system that is diagnostic, helps the teacher know what they’ve got to focus on. The second big [step] is that technology can be part of the educational experience and make it so that the learning is personalized, directed, and motivational. That, too, isn’t easy because there have been a lot of naïve views that that would come about in the past and it hasn’t really happened. Again, technology is far more powerful now. Putting great videos out on the Internet, and having the kids, either through their own computer or the library where there are computers they can check out, or at school, have access to that enabling factor is already there. Now we just need to build wonderful content that connects and isn’t isolated from what goes on in the classroom but is kind of complementary to it.

Access to that technology at the K­–12 level isn’t really where it should be, which sort of puts a lot of students behind the ball when it comes time to graduate and go on to the next level.
Right, but the key point is that the technology is only lightly connected to the classroom experience today. The view is that it could be used in a new way, and people like Sal Khan [founder and executive director of the Khan Academy, a free online education platform and nonprofit organization] are getting a lot of visibility for their work. You put these short lectures online for free and then you’re actually going to that lecture part outside the classroom. And so you use the classroom time for problem solving if there is something you are confused about, or sophisticated ways of looking at the concept. You are actually kind of inverting the way teaching is done—where it used to be that you’d sit and listen to a lecture in the classroom and solve problems outside, here you listen to the lecture outside and go do the problems inside. The early pilots on that are very, very good. You can even create the equivalent of an extended school day, so when your teacher is around you’re solving problems, but for a few hours at the end of the school day you’re staying connected, listening to lectures, trying out the sample problems. Everything you do goes into a report that your teacher can see for that whole class. How are they doing? How should they be grouped for the lesson time the next day?

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