How These 5 Cities Are Tackling Education
By Josefina Salomon
Today, when digitally savvy children are either outsmarting the books in front of them (thanks, Google) or are simply unable to access modern forms of education, teachers and governments are racking their brains — and finding smart ways to move forward. From artificial intelligence grading systems to environmentally focused schools made from bamboo to the city simply pulling out the good old TV set, today’s Daily Dose takes you on a global journey to five regions that are reimagining the world of education.
sewell, new jersey: machine learning is here
Think a teacher’s day ends when the bell rings? Fat chance. Meetings, class planning and, worst of all, endless paper grading means many face long hours working from the couch. Coupled with the challenge of providing meaningful individual feedback, administrative chores are a top source of stress for many overworked school staffers: One English teacher from Providence, Rhode Island, reports spending 300 hours (nearly two work months) a year just marking tests. Imagine tackling that additional workload while trying to find new ways to engage 10-year-olds in math!
AI to the Rescue
Here’s the solution: Schools in the picturesque American community of Sewell, New Jersey, population 37,000, are testing a machine-powered learning system that grades handwritten tests, analyzes results, tracks students’ progress and delivers new content based on their individual needs. The technology, which assesses photos of the kids’ completed assignments and delivers corrections and suggestions in seconds, is actually helping improve test results. Someone, please pass the Champagne.
Will this development mark the end of the road for our already overworked, underpaid teachers, then? Not at all. On top of helping children, these machine-learning systems are allowing educators to focus on other areas, such as imparting students with social skills and encouraging them to partake in sports and teamwork, which, at least for now, computers can’t help us with. One of the first people to test the platform in Sewell is algebra teacher Jennifer Turner, who reports that grades in her class have gone up thanks to the new technology. “Students are excited to be in my room, they’re telling me they love math, and those are things that I don’t normally hear,” she told The New York Times.
green ideas (and notes) from bali
We know the world is changing faster than you can say “Machines are taking over the world.” However, 21st-century children — get this — are being taught broadly the same education curriculum that their great-grandparents studied back in 1918. Is that crazy, considering all the technological change that’s come to pass? Yes. But is it surprising? Perhaps not. Today, reading and writing, math, science, history and foreign languages still take priority over skills such as problem-solving, teamwork and creativity. This means that these “soft skills” are not likely to be automated anytime soon.
So how do you prepare the kids of today for a world that doesn’t yet exist? Easy. Give them the skills to create the next robots in an environment that promotes awareness of our natural world — and make sure they’re breathing clean air while doing so. Sound utopian? It might be, but that’s the philosophy behind Green School, established 15 years ago by lifelong entrepreneurs John and Cynthia Hardy. The bamboo walls of their Bali school might seem more “yoga retreat” than “addition and division,” but it delivers lessons in permaculture, entrepreneurial learning and miming. The school’s ethos is to take students on a journey that fosters critical thinking and builds a more environmentally friendly and sustainable society. What’s more, it has succeeded in attracting students from across the globe.
A great idea, right? While the thought of children learning theater and farming surrounded by the lush rainforest of a tropical island is undeniably amazing, there’s a catch: the price tag. In fact, the school has been criticized for allegedly being elitist and designed exclusively for the offspring of well-off digital nomads. Want some social awareness with that cup of environmentalism?
master(chef) schools in the pacific
A Heavy Challenge
The world is getting more and more obese. Sure, there’s nothing new there, but did you know that most of the 10 countries with the highest rates of adult obesity are islands in the Pacific? (Yes, the U.S. also ranks pretty high on the list). One of the reasons behind this epidemic-sized crisis afflicting Pacific Islanders? Colonization. Before Americans, Australians, British, French, Japanese and others arrived on their verdant shores, the local diet consisted mainly of fresh fish and local fruits and vegetables. But with the uninvited foreign boats also came rice, sugar, flour, preserved foods, softs drinks and beef, throwing the dietary — and caloric — intake of the local populations out of whack.
So how have Pacific Islanders fought to get kids to eat well when junk is all around? They’ve made it cool. In a bid to get children across the region to swap soda cans for natural fruit juices and fatty burgers for lean local fish, authorities in Fiji teamed up with UNICEF to create a health-oriented, educational TV show called Pacific Island Food Revolution (the local answer to MasterChef). The series features teams of adults or children taking their enthusiasm into the kitchen while making dishes using locally sourced ingredients. “Programs like these provide children a platform, not only to develop their academic skills, but also positions them as role models for their peers,” Rosy Akbar, Fiji’s Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts, tells UNICEF.
Making Healthy Cool
Wait, does this actually work? Authorities in the U.S. claim they have been working to fight obesity for years (remember former first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign?). Sorry to say, American kids are not getting any healthier. While there is an abundance of campaigns hoping to get their healthy lifestyle message across, they alone appear unable to tackle some of the underlying causes of this health crisis. “Beyond getting fit and eating healthy, we also must address income, education and access to health care,” Mark Schoeberl, executive vice president for advocacy at the American Heart Association, tells U.S. News & World Report.
good evening, brno!
What People Want
Higher education is expensive any way you slice it, but prohibitively so in the world’s most developed countries. Start thinking about tuition, books, rent and all those coffees, and the dream of a college degree might soon seem like it will have to stay just that. The concept of universities as playgrounds of the elite, especially institutions that are outrageously wealthy, has become such a contentious issue across the globe that it has ignited student protest movements demanding free education from Chile to South Africa.
Where There’s a Problem . . .
There’s an opportunity. At least for some. Brno, the Czech Republic’s second-biggest city, has seized the opportunity to tackle educational challenges by reinventing itself as a center for academic excellence. And it’s going pretty well. The city with a population of less than 400,000 people is home to a surprising 13 universities, which attract thousands of international students (and their cash). Brno has become so successful that on some rankings, it lands among the top 10 cities most favored by students looking for a fun, cool (and affordable) place to attend college.
Brno’s success as a research and innovation center has even earned it the label the “Czech Silicon Valley.” Great, right? Yes, especially if you are a man working in tech. Women, on the other hand, have had a harder time breaking into this traditionally male-dominated field. And yet the fight is on: Dita Formankova, founder of Czechitas, a nonprofit organization, has been working with thousands of women and girls in the country to ensure the gender gap can soon be consigned to the history books.
mobile knowledge in chiapas
The stunning Mexican state, home to the Indigenous Mayan people and a magnet for international visitors, is also one of the most marginalized in the country. Can you guess what that means for education? Well, the majority of children do not finish their upper-secondary education, let alone have regular access to a computer, a phone, tablet or even internet to help with their homework.
Good Ol’ TV
When the pandemic hit Chiapas, things soon got worse for its kids. In a bid to ensure they had a venue to continue their education, the government proposed a retro solution: turn to TV sets. The idea was simple: Find teachers to stand in front of the camera and deliver a lesson, then air the broadcasts to communities in Chiapas and across the country. But there remains one small problem. Chiapas is the poorest state in Mexico, and TVs are not as common as one might think (yes, really). In addition, kids can’t complete their homework without internet access, which is extremely limited for those with fewer resources.
Local Problems, Local Solutions
Faced with these challenges, parents and teachers in Mexico’s most marginalized state did what they do best: They took matters into their own hands. In Chiapas, Fray Antonio Alfaro, a teacher who has made a crusade out of ensuring children are educated, retrofitted his old van with an antenna, Wi-Fi and books and started driving around to the state’s most vulnerable areas to help children with their homework assignments. “I took on the task of starting to help them so that they would feel that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Alfaro told the Monterrey Daily Post.
- Josefina Salomon, OZY Author Contact Josefina Salomon