Tech Guru Omar Wasow On Putting 'Tech' into Education

Tech Guru Omar Wasow Explains How to Put More ‘Tech’ into Education

Omar Wasow, co-founder of BlackPlanet, launched the Brooklyn Excelsior Charter School in 2003.

What type of effort and preparation did that take?

We’ve had a lot of ups and downs on the way to our current success. We applied three times to start our charter school before finally getting approved. After we were approved, we struggled to find an appropriate building and a great principal. After completing a major renovation of a very rundown building and finding our principal, we still needed to get the test scores of our kids up to a high enough level so that our school could be renewed after five years. It’s been a tough journey but well worth it.

In what ways do you think technology and social media should intersect with education in the classroom?

In almost every educational setting, student ability varies greatly. This diversity of ability makes it very hard for any one teacher to give appropriately targeted instruction to everyone in a class. Well designed computer-based educational software allows highly personalized instruction to be delivered to each student. This allows each student to focus on the specific issues and challenges he or she faces and makes learning more engaging. Shifting from our one-size-fits-all model of education to a more personalized approach will be one of the most important ways tech transforms education.

What advice do you have for aspiring teachers and/or mid-career professionals who are currently working in the tech world but want to contribute in the classroom?

I’m on the board of a non-profit called Citizen Schools that allows professionals to offer apprenticeships to kids who might not otherwise get to see what it’s like to be a lawyer or a programmer or an engineer. I highly recommend volunteering for organizations like Citizen Schools that help students understand how their education can help them succeed in life. I also highly recommend getting involved with charter schools (either as a board member, volunteer, teacher or parent).

What can schools, principles, and teachers learn from the hi-tech startup culture?

High-tech startups are all about figuring out how innovation can improve the world. Education, by comparison, is mission driven but largely stagnant when it comes to innovation. Why the difference? For most of the last half-century, public education has essentially been a monopoly in which there are no rewards to improving outcomes and no penalties for failure. Part of the value of school choice is that it creates room for new entrants to do things differently and redefine what’s possible. As schools like KIPP, Achievement First and others show that low-income kids can perform at high levels, it raises the bar for everyone and we can all learn from their success. So the core lesson from the tech world is that it’s essential for public education to have laws that allow innovators to compete with the established players.