My grandmother turned 92 a couple of months ago. While her short-term memory isn't great, she can describe in detail growing up in the 1920s. It is amazing how much has changed in her lifetime. Commercial air travel. Computers. Nuclear power. And so much more.
How will the world that my grandchildren grow up in differ from my own? That question is at the core of staff writer Anya Kamenetz's cover story, " 'A' Is for App". Despite all the mind-bending innovations in our culture over the past century, primary education remains largely the same: an Industrial Age model, with rows of seats and one-size-fits-all preparation, using paper, pencil, chalk, and crayon, plus the occasional whiteboard.
Kamenetz — whose book DIY U comes out this month — raises the prospect of a new, technology-driven system, with handheld devices that aid teachers and excite kids, as well as mobile apps that can replace traditional schooling in the less-developed world. She tells the tale of a device called the TeacherMate, which is already being used in 500 schools in 14 states, as well as in classrooms and community centers from Mexico to Rwanda to the far reaches of Nepal. Closer to home, she notes how the iPhone, the XO laptop from One Laptop Per Child, and netbooks are enabling a new wave of self-learning for kids as young as 3.
These are still early days in this revolution, and we make no claim that the TeacherMate or the iPhone will be the catalysts that transform schooling everywhere. But we do believe this movement holds the seeds of a more sophisticated, more effective, more modern way of teaching, training, and preparing our youth for a new world.
It makes me think of my grandfather, who passed away a decade ago. He was obsessed with electronic gadgets and bought them one after another, despite the fact that they rarely lived up to their promise. When my siblings and I were in grade school and our birthdays came along, we joked among ourselves, "What RadioShack gizmo will he give us next?"
He was on to something. If there had been an iPhone or iPad back then, he would have been first in line to get one. He saw the future, perhaps because he and my grandmother had a visceral sense of the past and how far we had come. The perspective of age allowed them to perceive the sweep of change that may not show as clearly in a month, in a snapshot, in a news cycle.
The education revolution may be hard to see now, but it's coming. And I'll bet my grandparents would be superexcited about it.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.