Education Can Change a Family's Destiny

Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Google chief evangelist for education Jaime Casap delivering keynote presentation the District Administration Leadership Summit Sept. 20, 2012.

On Sept. 20, Jaime Casap, senior education evangelist at Google, Inc., gave the keynote presentation at the District Administration Leadership Institute Summit at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort in Phoenix, Ariz. Casap had the audience thinking about the meaning of true educational vision and where we need to be in the future with regard to creating a learning environment that brings out the best in every child. A summary of his keynote is below.

Education, Casap says, can change a family’s destiny in one generation. He is living proof. As a five-year-old child, Casap entered kindergarten at a New York City public school not knowing a word of English. A first-generation American raised by an Argentine single mother in Hell’s Kitchen (on the mid-west side of Manhattan), where they often lived without electricity, he went on to receive a double bachelor's degree in political science and communications from SUNY Brockport and a master's in public policy from Arizona State University.

“Education can stop poverty,” he asserts. “My son gets up and complains because he has to do a system update on his Play Station 3 before he can play Call of Duty on a 55-inch television screen. And that’s the way I want it to be for him.”

Today, Casap says, school leaders are preparing children for jobs that don’t even exist yet. “What does high school look like in 2037? What’s the world going to look like when they graduate? The world is getting smaller and competition is on a global scale, so what do we do to prepare kids for that future?”

Fixing the Foundation
Before we even begin to bring technology into the equation, he says we have to overcome three basic struggles:

How to prepare teachers for the new world. “There are a number of jobs available today that can’t be filled with the skill sets we have,” he says. At the end of the day, it’s still about people – how do we prepare those teachers for the new world?

Managing the expectations students have for themselves and then providing them with the skills they need. “Success is related to effort. But when you look at some of the research asking kids in low-income areas about that very statement, 75 percent of them don’t agree with it. "This has to change," Casap says. "It’s a lifetime disease you don’t even recognize you have until later in life, because low expectations stay with you and you might not even recognize you are a victim of it. One of my political science professors suggested that I apply to the Kennedy School at Harvard. I told him that I wouldn't do that because "kids like me don't go to Harvard." I told him that I would never get in and if I did, I would get eaten alive there. I took classes with him. He knew my skills and abilities. He knew my potential. However, because I was a victim of low expectations my whole life, I didn't expect I would do well. It took a series of accomplishments, getting a master's, working at Accenture, working at Google, before I started thinking that I would be smart enough to go to Harvard. I spoke at Harvard last year and it felt like I had a little closure to that issue.”

So we’re dealing with low expectations. We need to figure out how we turn this around so they expect to succeed and expect to do well, and then we need to teach teachers how to facilitate that.”

What drives children to succeed, Casap says, are things that engage them, such as arts programs and sports, and those are the very programs we’re cutting from our schools. “These are literally the saving foundations for a lot of these kids. Sometimes it’s just an escape. Something they can attach themselves to and belong to a program simply because they don’t get that kind of environment at home. So we need to figure out what motivates kids and how to leverage that in the education process.”

And we have to look at the skills youths need today. In college, he recalls drawing on an overhead transparent plastic sheet with a Sharpie to present a project to the class. When he got out of college, Windows 3.1 was just being introduced, “and I thought kids’ expectations were going to change dramatically from all that technology,” he says. Yet, when he visits K12 schools and the kids have to give presentations to him on what he spoke to them about, they don’t make it their own or use technology to take it to the next level. They simply regurgitate the information back to Casap that he gave them. For all intents and purposes, “they’re still drawing on an overhead sheet with a Sharpie,” he says, and we have to move them forward.

Skills To Develop
As we move forward in a technology-pervasive environment, there are four key skills Casap feels educators should focus on:

1.      Collaboration. “In school, everything is I, I, I,” he says. “I go to school. I take a test. If two kids took a test together, it would be frowned upon. We collaborate in our lives, why not in learning? We need to work that into the learning environment. Collaboration is critical.”

2.      Stop memorizing and start thinking. “I don’t know my 11-year-old’s cellphone number. If we know where to get certain information, we don’t memorize it. What we memorize is how to get that information,” he says, referring to kids using search as their leading source of information today. “And we need to teach them how to make sense of that. Today, just 15 percent of all information available is online. What’s going to happen when it’s 50 percent or 80 percent? How are we going to teach our kids to vet information under those circumstances? We need to teach our kids to effectively find the information they need, not to memorize it.”

3.      Make better use of videos. Videos are a great way to learn, Casap says. Seventy-two hours of video gets uploaded for every minute of video we watch, according to Google. “No matter how hard they try, your kids will never be able to watch every bit of video on YouTube. So we need to figure out how we’re going to teach them to vet information on the web. And we can’t ban the web. It’s not going anywhere, so how do we teach them to use it effectively? We need to change our point of view from ‘they can’t post and share’ to ‘not only can they, but how do we teach them to do it effectively so that they grow up and get good jobs’.”

4.      We all learn in different ways, so let’s personalize how we use technology. “This is going to be critical – it’s the next hot topic in education. We probably all test in different ways too. So standardized testing and having one test for everyone is probably not a good idea.”

Better Leverage of the Web
As people who were mostly not born in the digital generation, we have to recognize that the web, for kids in K12, is pervasive. “To them, a smartphone isn’t smart. It’s just a phone. And the web is the way they find things. The way they’ve always found what they need. They don’t know any different.”

Casap tells a story of a family vacation in Hawaii, where his 19-year-old daughter, who is musically inclined, decided she wanted to learn how to play the ukulele. So he bought her one, then asked if she wanted to pick up a tutorial DVD or a learning manual, thinking he was being a supportive and understanding father. He recalls, she looked at him as if she could never have been more embarrassed. “How is she going to learn?” he asks the audience. “On YouTube!” they unanimously shout back. “That’s right,” he confirms. “She’s going to find that one person out of 100 available videos who can teach her the way she learns – the way she learns – and then she’s going to be able to post a video of herself playing and generate feedback from the experienced players on how she’s playing.” To older generations, that’s a complete paradigm shift, but to Casap’s daughter, it’s just the way things are done.

Learning by Doing
In schools, we’re starting to see places where technology is changing the learning model, he observes. “We have blended learning. Flipped classrooms. Lecture capture. These are things that weren’t possible 10 years ago.”

But, he cautions, “we have to remember that technology is just a tool. It’s no different from the desk in the classroom. We don’t talk about desks the way we talk about technology. We don’t talk about the glorious pencil the way we talk about technology. They’re just tools. So we need to remember that technology is about enabling a better learning model, not about replacing and automating bad education. We have to remember that it’s just part of the infrastructure.”

And it is those tools, he says, that will take the teacher from teaching 30 kids in a classroom with four walls to teaching 30,000 in a school district. Yet, the technology that makes that happen will become as invisible as those desks, and we won’t spend a lot of time in our day managing them. They will manage us. It’s happening now, he says. The web is the place where learning is taking place. And if we learn to leverage it, we can facilitate tremendous opportunities for kids, those opportunities we know enough to dream about, and those we don’t even know yet are going to exist.  

Jaime Casap serves on the Arizona STEM Education Board and on the board of directors for New Global Citizens. He is a member of the Digital Learning Council, and was recently named to the SXSWedu Advisory Board. Casap is also a faculty associate at Arizona State University, where he teaches graduate classes in leadership, innovation, and public policy.