Reinventing schools: some champions in our backyard

Foreign domestic workers attend a class on Microsoft Excel software, at Aidha micro business school in Singapore October 20, 2013. When she was eight, Lisa Padua lost everything after her father died, forcing her to leave school in her mid-teens to work as a maid in Qatar and then in Singapore. Twenty one years later, she still works in Singapore as a domestic helper but now owns three businesses and earns enough to send six nephews and nieces to college in the Philippines. Padua says she owes her success to Aidha, a micro school in Singapore that trains women like her in wealth and business management so they can build a better future back home in the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar. Picture taken October 20, 2013. To match SINGAPORE-MAIDS/ENTREPRENEURS REUTERS/Edgar Su (SINGAPORE - Tags: BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT EDUCATION SOCIETY) - RTX14J8J

The three most visible waves of reinventing modern education come in the form of digitizing, internationalizing, and personalizing. Image: REUTERS/Edgar Su

Mark Esposito
Chief Learning Officer, Nexus FrontierTech, Professor at Hult International Business School
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In the wake of the US presidential election and the rise of the post-truth information era, it seems timely to open a discussion around innovation in the education sphere. What are the biggest challenges facing the industry, and what solutions are being developed? And who is taking charge of reinventing what many consider to be a flawed educational system? While problems may arise from a number of angles, one certainty is becoming evident to all of us. If we want to change society, it all needs to start on how we educate our offspring. And this is happening now.

Looking at a broad swathe of organizations across the industry, it’s clear that many are already establishing new and effective alternatives to the current system, with their own relative emphases on scalability, impact, and efficiency.

The three most visible waves of reinventing modern education come in the form of digitizing, internationalizing, and personalizing.


The rise of massive open online courses (MOOCs) has been discussed frequently in the education space. The digital era brought in a new moment of unparalleled information access.Not only do students of all ages have access to more information than ever before, but also access to the highest quality educators in the world -- so long as those educators are willing to post their lessons.

Khan Academy, EdX, and Coursera are all quickly expanding organizations, ballooning with quality content while they compete for uncertain revenues in an emerging market. The content features top teachers and professors from all backgrounds, including syllabi, homework, study group chat rooms, and live video discussions with professors.

Students don’t have to complete their coursework when they’re told. If they find that they learn better by studying in the evening, then by all means, they are able to do so. If they need to repeat a professor’s words, they can scroll back the video 10 seconds indefinitely until they understand what was said. One shortcoming is that with so much flexibility, students find it hard to be incentivized to finish. That human touch is hardly replaceable for motivating the developing mind.


The most captivating educational movements often aren’t traditional organizations. In higher education, Minerva Schools at KGI is causing a storm, with over 16,000 applications reported this year — for 306 available spots.

Each year, these students find themselves in a new country, completing their undergraduate curriculum in the powerful context of different cities around the world: Istanbul, London, San Francisco, Berlin, Seoul, Bangalore. Decentralizing the university model is a reality that hasn’t quite emerged until now. The gap year is another rapidly growing space for innovation. Not bound by the same limitations as K-12 or Higher Ed, students have the ability to use gap years to shape their own lives, and explore the things that motivate, challenge, and inspire them.

Cambridge-based Winterline Global Skills, seeks to prepare students for the real world by teaching them real-world skills as they travel on their gap years. Students find themselves in a new place every week, learning things from marine conservation to running a restaurant to filming a documentary.


And for those interested in innovation at the brick-and-mortar level, the wave of personalization emerging in some of the highest quality schools is inspiring.

High Tech High, out of San Diego, developed a lottery-based public charter school that graduates 99% of its students with acceptance into college. As a nearly textbook-free school, their emphases on personalization, diversity, collaboration, and adult-level work expectations create profound impacts on their K-12 students.

Summit Public Schools, with sophisticated software and hardware, is developing highly personalized learning for students within a framework of social and emotional learning. With the aid of technology, students learn to identify when they’re falling behind or need to ask for help, as well as how and when to seek more quality information. It’s clear that such skills are increasing in relevance to the work of the 21st century.

While the post-truth era looms, innovation in the education sphere leaves some room for hope. We’ll see whether students of the future are able to sort through the mountains of information that so defines us today and become agents of change of a new working paradigm, placing humanistic societies in the center of our development for the decades to come.

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