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The EdStartUp pain test – what problem does Work&Teach help solve?

My EdStartUp idea, Work&Teach, helps bridge the gap between compulsory education and the workplace, to the benefit of both. After conducting numerous research projects and speaking to hundreds of people about this issue I believe that ‘gap’ is a problem that causes serious pain to many learners, educators and employees (as well as to schools, colleges and employers).

Learners experience this pain in several ways; for instance they may not see the point of learning, struggling to find what is taught, how it is taught and why it is taught to be relevant, engaging or useful. For many students the pressure to acquire academic knowledge, achieve better grades and succeed in exams are short term pains for no apparent gain. This is especially true of those lacking supportive networks, stable home lives or working role models (1.8m UK children live in households where nobody works). The result is that too many young people fail to successfully make the transition from the world of education to the world of work. They find that their education did not prepare them for challenges such as passing a job interview or starting their own business.

Educators also experience the pain caused by this gap. They lack opportunities to learn about the latest workplace practices, to see what skills are in demand or how their subject is relevant to tackling problems. As a result they can struggle to really engage learners, especially those who are more motivated by real-world challenges than learning for learning’s sake. Growing demands on their time mean educators lack the support to really address these issues.

Lastly, employees also feel the pain caused by the gap between education and work. Assuming they have successfully secured a job they often find that they don’t have the knowledge or skills required to make satisfactory progress in their careers. On the one hand their technical and subject knowledge doesn’t seem relevant to the latest challenges and tasks they face, on the other they haven’t developed the skills or competencies needed, for example to solve complex problems in diverse teams. Even if they do manage to both get a job and feel content in their career progression, their engagement and satisfaction with work can ebb, questioning the value they bring and the difference they make.

What causes this gap between the worlds of education and work and has it always been a problem? Sir Ken Robinson famously argues that our education system is a 19th Century ‘sausage factory’ developed to produce good factory workers for a Fordist, industrial economy. I have some sympathy for that view but think the key cause is simply that the nature of work is changing faster than the education system. Technology is speeding the world around us up in many ways and our established institutions (from public services to well-known companies) sometimes struggle to adapt and change. In particular there are limited opportunities for employers and educators to interact, leaving them to work through a complex and increasingly out-dated system of subjects, assessments and qualifications that neither engages nor prepares some learners for the transition to the workplace.

I’m still exploring if I’ve understood this ‘pain’ accurately and would welcome feedback from others as I develop my vision for one small solution.


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My EdStartUp idea – Work&Teach

This blog post is another weekly homework assignment for my first MOOC, EdStartUp 101. I’m already running a few weeks behind… 8-<. We’re tasked with describing our ‘EdStartUp’ idea. Mine is something I’ve been thinking about on the side of my day job for a couple of years now. All comments and feedback very welcome.

Summary of my idea

Work&Teach is a social business that brings the workplace and education closer together, to the benefit of both. It does this by encouraging and enabling high-potential employees to be paid to teach in local schools and colleges part-time.

The problem my idea solves?

Too many young people struggle to make a successful transition from the world of education to the world of work – for example in the UK the number of 16-24 year olds Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) currently stands at 968,000, up 19,000 on Q1 2012. Too many learners are disengaged by educational experiences that don’t give them the role-models, skills or knowledge they will need for their futures. Too many educators lack opportunities to learn about the latest working practices or insights relevant to their subject. Too many high-performing employees lack rewarding, engaging or tangible challenges in their jobs. Too many employers struggle to attract, retain and develop high-potential talent.

How my idea fixes the problem

Work&Teach is a brokering and support service, matching promising employees with relevant skills to the specific priorities of local schools and colleges e.g. putting a software programmer in a school with low maths attainment. This additional resource helps support educators and up-skill them about the latest working practices. Learner experiences are then more engaging and relevant, with a knowledgeable working role-model in the classroom. Participants go through a challenging and rewarding personal development programme. Schools and colleges get a flexible and bespoke additional resource to meet their needs. Employers get to develop their staff and build their reputation.

Why do I want to fix the problem?

As ever in these cases, my motivation starts with my own experiences of education. Although on paper I am academically successful, I never felt particularly engaged or enthused through secondary school. Instead I felt I was making tactical and strategic decisions, learning how to beat the system and get the badges I needed for the next level. I felt that what I was being forced to learn lacked either relevance or application, it was learning for learning’s sake or usually even worse, for the sake of tests and qualifications. Many of the skills, knowledge and traits I have developed came from other experiences,such as part-time jobs and travelling, rather than from school. I believe Work&Teach can really help engage young people and prepare them better for that transition to work, especially those who don’t have the advantages that I had, which allowed me to still do ok despite my lack of engagement at school.

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Reflections on the EdStartUp “space”

This blog post is my way of catching up on my weekly homework for my first MOOC, EdStartUp 101. After seeing the video with Betsy Corcoran, founder of EdSurge, the education-technology ‘information resource and community’. I had a few quick ideas and responses…

I do worry a little about how the language we all use might help create unnecessary barriers and distinctions between the ‘education’ and ‘technology’ camps sometimes. For example ‘teaching and learning’ doesn’t seem that accessible a concept to your average software founder as it’s deceptively simple exterior houses a bunch of big, awkward questions like what should be taught, how should it be taught and what should be learned as a result? Similarly I find the use of ‘the education space’ to be a little off-putting to educators due to it’s associations with management consultancy and corporate speak (hence my use of scare-quotes above). I have an ongoing campaign in my day job at Pearson against the use of ‘learnings’ as a verb.

The idea that Teach for America teachers are more likely to start an EdTech StartUp intrigued me and I wondered if the same was true of Teach First here in the UK? I know of some great face-to-face businesses (like Enabling Enterprise and The Access Project) to come from Teach First alumni, but no tech-focussed ones. Perhaps that’s more a signal of the UK EdTech StartUp scene compared to the States (or my own ignorance)?

The charts that Betsy showed give some indication of why there’s growing fears of another .com education technology bubble…

GSV Advisors, American Revolution 2.0, p.312

But also highlight the hopes for more sustainable grass-roots innovation this time, including from educators themselves…

GSV Advisors, American Revolution 2.0, p.311

The key point for me is the one she raises about the values of those choosing to start a company or invest in this ‘space’.  Who do they want to be and what impact do they really have should be the big questions we all consider, before money even comes into it.

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Intro video for EdStartUp 101 MOOC

If a picture says a 1000 words, is a video more or fewer?

A quick personal intro for the online course EdStartUp 101 – all about education startups.


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