This post is part of a series of interviews with international educators, policy makers, and leaders titled “One Good Question.”  These interviews provide answers to Broussard's One Good Question (outlined in About) and uncover new questions about education’s impact on the future.

In what ways do our investments in education reveal our beliefs about the next generation's role in the world?

Thankfully, there is a lot of investment in education, both public and philanthropic dollars.  The sheer quantity of investment is a clear signal – we believe that our generation plays a critical role in the future world and deserves deep investment.  That said, where does it go? There are lots of human capital investments that funders are making in all sorts of ways to attract, evaluate, and train educators.  These investments are animated by a critical need in creating great learning environments ; namely,  kids need caring adults around them who are effective at teaching, coaching, motivating, etc.

On the other hand, human capital  funding by itself may unintentionally reinforce the idea that the only  or best way for kids to learn is through teacher-centric models where students have little agency over their own learning.  With School in the Cloud, Sugata Mitra challenges the role of educators in the learning process.   Basically, he was a web developer who said "What would happen if I just put a computer in the wall here?" in a low-income neighborhood in India.  Kids started using it and they had never touched a computer before.  They looked up stuff and started learning things.  Then he said, let me do it somewhere where there aren’t a bunch of techies around.  And this time he gave the users a question to figure out.  When he asked for their feedback, they said: "We have to learn English in order to use it." And they actually did learn English to figure out how to keep accessing the tool!  This is an extreme but very instructive example that, with the right tools and motivations, students will self-direct their own learning.  So we have to ask ourselves, is it enough to invest in human capital when the underlying traditional model, by its design, under-leverages the innate motivation of students to self-direct their learning ? And what might that say about how we conceive of their place in the world ?

Another important and laudable category of investments go towards scaling "good schools." This comes from a very good place and should continue – if we’re seeing a good learning environment in one place we should try to replicate that in more communities especially where educational opportunities are poor.  That said, an unintended consequences of scale investments is that half-baked things grow before they’re really proven and successful operators sometimes  grow faster than the quality can keep up.

Scaling education models is an efficiency play and lots of students and families have had significantly better education choices and experiences as a result of these investments. Counting and expanding "quality seats"  is critical work. That said, what unintended narratives might animate these investments?  To what extent are we saying that we need quality seats so that our students can be "competitive" in the global marketplace?  Instead, how might we expand quality seats while reinforcing a narrative that an american student from New Orleans should be working with her brothers and sisters in China to make the world a better place and not merely trying to "outcompete" them?  And when we scale into new communities quickly, to what extent are we  "going fast alone vs. going further together"?  This is all a tricky balancing act and I’m heartened to see so many "in this work" asking these questions more often and more publicly.

Read the full article here.