Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Learning from the Gates Foundation

I have written about my interest in global citizenship in previous posts. So, when I recently was invited to attend the Gates Social with Anil Dash on digital technology and its ability to effect world change, I was, needless to say, ecstatic. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an organization I follow closely. They are effecting change across sectors both nationally and internationally. If you aren’t familiar with their work, I encourage you to explore their website, where you will find research, stories and detailed accounts of the projects being undertaken. Furthermore, the Gates Annual letter came out in January, and it is an excellent succinct overview of where the Gates Foundation hopes to be headed across industries in the coming 15 years.

As for the Gates Social, I had to brave a blizzard to attend the event, but I am so very glad I did. I left the day inspired and excited about the developments being made across sectors, and immensely thankful to have connected with other like minded, passionate attendees. My hope in the global progress being made was surely renewed. Furthermore, I came away with a deeper knowledge of mobile banking and the ability it has to empower the world’s poor and the innovations occurring in the agricultural industry. These are areas where my expertise isn’t robust, so I was thrilled to glean novel insights from both the speakers and the attendees.

However, education played a major role in the discussions of the day. Since this is my area of greatest interest and expertise and the area in which I am most invested, my biggest take away from the Gates Social was how mindful the Gates Foundation is being as they invest in and champion the shift from brick and mortar education to a more online, accessible and digital model of learning. 

During the event those in the room had a chance to dig into the Gates Annual letter, and ask the tough questions of Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the current CEO of the Gates Foundation. The Gates Letter concisely articulates the global shift toward digitizing education, and the variety of tools that have the power to transform the current state of the education sector. What excited me most was that the letter doesn’t shy away from advocating that this fundamental change will not and could not replace teachers. As a former teacher, I could not agree more. However, with my background in leading Ed Tech professional development for teachers and past research into tech Pro-d, this had me curious about how the Gates Foundation plans to support teachers in building their 21st century teaching skills so they are able to effectively integrate and utilize these new tools. I had the chance to ask Dr. Desmond-Hellmann this very question. Her response was as eloquent as it was detailed. Dr. Desmond-Hellmann began by affirming that teachers need to be at the heart of any change, and that the Gates Foundation was mindful of this fact. She went on to elaborate her experiences in the schools and what she has observed there. This excited me, as I am thankful to hear of policy makers spending their time getting into the field before they make key decisions. Dr. Desmond-Hellmann concluded by affirming that she is aware of the barriers in terms of teacher readiness and expertise when implementing new technology. This awareness is critical, because even without a formal teacher support plan, being mindful the hurdles in the implementation process is a good place to start crafting one. 

As I write this, I am aware that the role of the Gates Foundation in education and educational policy is not without its detractors. The Gates Foundation has put significant resources behind the implementation of Common Core standards nationwide, and these are the subject of much debate and controversy among parents, educators and administrators. Whatever your position on the implementation of the Common Core, I hope that the Foundation's work in educational technology can be appreciated for its positive impact for teachers and their students.

I am so thankful to have been invited to join the conversation at the first Gates Social hosted in New York City, and hope to be able to attend any future events held in our region. I am equally excited to watch as the Gates Foundation works out the vision they have laid out in their current Annual letter over the next 15 years. The last thing I leave you with also happens to be the conclusion of the Gates Annual letter, and that is their call for Global Citizens. The Gates Foundation is launching an initiative to gather like-minded passionate people and inform them of the headway being made in making our globe a more equitable place to live. So head over to the Gates Letter and register as a Global Citizen.

No comments:

Post a Comment