The world as I see it — Part 1

A personal story by Bodo Hoenen, Founder of Dev4X

My son and daughter are about to go to school and I am dreading sending them there! Lorelei (my 5-year-old daughter) explained to me that one day, when she builds her secret superhero house on the moon she will need to give us a “special knock password” so that she can open the door for us when we come to visit. She can’t give us a word password because “no one can hear you in space”. She goes on to describe the spaceship she will build and how her plants and insect friends will live on the moon, in complex detail. And, In the back of my mind I started wondering how long this will last. I am dreading the systematic dulling of this creativity in her by the focus on grades, standardized tests and outdated teachings. I don't want her to lose her creativity, passion and curiosity – her invaluable sense of wonder!

It is our children's creativity that is most valuable. 60% of today's jobs will not be needed in the near future, and 65% of today’s grade school kids will end up at jobs that haven’t been invented yet (US Department of Labor, Future work). The old jobs are being replaced by automation, algorithms and robots, however, the jobs not being replaced are those that computers are not good at, the ones that require human creativity, passion and curiosity to figure out novel solutions. Unfortunately, the traditional educational model, with its standardization and broadly issued textbooks is teaching the exact opposite, which was fine for the first 100 years of its operation, but now it's obsolete. Our outdated and slow to move educational systems are not adapting quickly enough to empower our children in this new world, especially those most under-served children in poverty and areas of inadequate support. Our children are not being adequately prepared for the world they will be growing up in. We only need to look at the number of graduates not able to find work -even those apparently well educated- to see the beginnings of this (53.6% of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 are jobless or underemployed: US department of Labor).  We need an educational model that, from an early age, fosters their curiosity, their creativity, their entrepreneurial skills and passions. An educational model that operates like the real world and teaches through doing, through sharing and through exploring, an educational model where everyone is both a learner and a teacher and learning is a continual, lifelong and empowering process.

Where The Need Is Most Profound

There are more than 50 million children that cannot go to school or get a basic primary education, because of poverty, where they live, conflicts or belonging to gender-stratified societies. There are more than 650 million who may have access to schools, but because the schools are poorly run and their teachers often absent, they are not getting even a basic education. Current approaches to build more schools and train more teachers are not scaled quickly or widely enough to reach the children that need it most. Even with all the sustained work of Governments, NGO's and individuals contributing to this challenge, at our current pace UNESCO reports we will only be able to fully address this issue by 2086. That means an additional three generations of children may be left behind!

What if we could provide these children that currently get nothing, an education that leapfrogs the obsolete traditional education?

What we need

We need a radical change in the way we are solving these issues. The global educational system is in a state that in computer science is called a local maximum. It’s a state in which most innovation seems to be less effective than the current system and therefore more and more effort is put into simply optimizing as opposed to testing out radical solutions that could increase the effectiveness of the system. Working to simply optimise solutions that are at a local maximum soon reaches a point in which we see diminishing returns. And that’s where we are now:  significant increases in educational spending over the last 20 years without the expected increase in effectiveness. The traditional educational system has reached a state of diminishing returns; it is stuck on a local maximum. Education craves disruption and redesign.

However, any needed, radical change in this system is extremely difficult to implement. Not because new solutions are too complex, costly or onerous  – many are actually far simpler, less costly and with the potential to be highly effective. They are difficult to implement because the inertia of the incumbent system is so massive and the protectionism by those entrenched in the status quo is so great that change is near impossible to implement, especially at the rate we need it.

We no longer need a factory-modeled, one-size-fits-all education that is limited to a classroom with a lecturer. One geared towards standardised test, traditional qualifications and simply getting into college. We need a fundamentally new way of teaching our children, one that reflects the way we learn in the real world. We need groups of children working on projects together and teaching each other, where experts are called in when needed, where learning takes place through exploration and experimentation. We need a system that is uniquely positioned to support and encourage each child. A system that empowers children to be successful and engages them to effect real change in their world from a young age. We need a system that fosters learning by doing, experimentation and creativity. Otherwise we share the global risk of having that creativity and passion subdued and dulled.

What we are doing about it

My two young children will soon to go to school. I have been dreading this, knowing the school they will soon attend is no better than the ones I went to as a child, and in some ways may be  worse. To counter this, I have been encouraging their curiosity and their creativity by helping them learn about the things they are most passionate about. Through that process, I followed my own curiosity and creativity, and started to work on a solution that could very well change the world for many hundreds of millions of children in the next 10 years. The project I have been working on is the Dev4X - Moonshot Education Project.

Dev4X is empowering children, in particular those most under-served, that do not have access to traditional schooling to take their learning into their own hands and share it with their siblings, friends and family through Peer to Peer learning. We are designing a solution that will enable children to develop skills, learn about the world, and foster their creativity and passions by teaching each other.  Technology will be their tool, not their teacher. Curiosity will fuel their discovery of curriculum.  And sharing will be what drives their success. This enabling software can operate on low-cost tablets and run in both online and offline environments and is designed to be highly scalable and used with or without direct supervision. It’s this highly scalable design that allows us to reach the most under-served that other approaches cannot in time.

My own children

It's through this platform that I know my daughter will be able to continue to explore her passions and foster her curiosity of the world around her. My hope is that it can advance from a supplemental tool —that she can use in addition to traditional education— to something even she can use as a primary, lifelong learning tool.  

Imagine: a world where every child has a personally adapted learning platform that can empower them to take control of their learning! A platform that will foster their creativity, ignite their passion, and instill empathy and compassion as they learn with their friends, their community and the world around them.

You can read part 2 of this series here, where I talk about our strategy to radically change education.


Raising Support

This is what we, Dev4X, a radically open community project, are doing, and we need your support to help us make this mission a reality. Please go to our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign and help us empower all children, especially those most under-served to take their learning into their own hands: