Last year in a Boston Globe article, Bill Gates claimed that providing vaccines to developing countries was easy compared to changing the education system. Those who have taken on the Sisyphean task of education reform know that that’s true. The education system is a complex, multifaceted system that has an enormous amount of inertia.
Instead of relying on large-scale interventions that remained popular for most of the 20th century, through thinkers such as John Dewey and Paulo Freire, education reform in the 21st century belongs to the social entrepreneur. Ontario is home to a vibrant cluster of “education entrepreneurs”: socially innovative ventures, either for-profit or not-for-profit, that have developed innovative programs or products that seek to enhance K–12 education in Ontario.
“The key … is to unleash a wave of entrepreneurship in education of a kind the developed world has not seen since the 19th century,” says Charles Leadbeater in a position paper entitled, Learning from Extremes. “The 20th century was the century of the teacher and the school, the class and the exam. The 21st needs to become the century of the educational entrepreneur.”
The MaRS Discovery District is home to many entrepreneurs working on education start-ups. Social purpose businesses like Spongelab and PractiQuest have developed educational games that seek to teach everything from biology education to anti-bullying. Not-for-profit organization, One Voice One Team, brings professional athletes into schools around the GTA and works with them all year on projects designed to help their communities.
Multifaceted Diversity Solutions has tackled the prayer-space controversy head-on in Toronto schools by providing administrators and teachers a suite of informational videos designed to help understand the requirements of religious accommodation. E-learning and digital media companies such as Quillsoft have developed software designed to help students read and write.
More disruptive ventures exist, too, with New Found Networks creating an entire “in-school app series” designed to engage kids with educational content through their phones. OTEP is a Windsor-based company that uses computer games and self-assessment tools to personalize instruction based on a student’s learning style.
Many of these ventures have partners within the school system, as well as engaged stakeholders outside the school system to test and refine programs based on current research.
A recent article in the Globe and Mail profiled Dr. Sylvain Moreno, founder of MusIQ Kids. Moreno is a neuroscientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, and has created a computer-based cognitive training program designed to teach kids the basics of music. The results of their study showed that students who trained with the game for 20 days showed an increased IQ score during verbal testing as compared to a control group. Moreno’s previous research has shown that music and language use some of the same networks in the brain, so he is not surprised by the results.
Dr. Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist at McGill University is the father of research in music and neuroscience, and is speaking at MaRS on Nov 1 alongside performances from pianist Eve Egoyan, multimedia David Rokeby and Moshe Hammer’s Hammer Band. In his popular book This is Your Brain on Music, Levitin draws on his experience as a producer and sound engineer for Blue Oyster Cult, Santana and the Grateful Dead, and combines it with cutting edge neuroscience research to give us a fascinating picture of how the brain understands and creates music.
What remains to be seen is how this new crop of education entrepreneurs can change the system from the inside out, reaching students through innovative products, services, and business models.
Interested in further exploring education entrepreneurship? MaRS hosts Art, Science and the Brain: New Methods of Learning for the 21st Century from Oct 31 – Nov 1.
Joseph Wilson is an education specialist at MaRS Discovery District.
For ticket and schedule information for Art, Science and the New Brain: New Methods of Learning for the 21st Century, please visit: www.21c-learning.ca