Almost everything about our lives has changed in the past couple of generations, much of it with breathtaking speed. The economy has gone global and is now thoroughly dependent on digital technologies, rendering obsolete much of our parents’ world. Trains and planes now travel at three or four times the pace of their predecessors – and they’re much safer than they used to be.
We can all remember a time when certain African or Asian villages were so remote that it took weeks to reach them. Now virtually everywhere in the world is just a day’s trip away.
A few short years ago, Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook, and Google didn’t exist. Now they’re the dominant drivers of a transformed world.
The mobility spawned by this tech-dominated global economy has literally changed the face of countries, including America’s. The U.S. Asian population grew more than 70% between 2000 and 2015; the U.S. Hispanic population increased some 60% during the same period, a demographic revolution that shows no sign of abating.
Almost everything has changed, except perhaps the most important thing: the education of our children. A large percentage of schools worldwide seem to be caught in a time warp, trapped in the postwar years of Western economic and cultural hegemony.
“It is as if more than a century ago someone invented ‘school’ and the formula was universally adopted, and since then it has remained largely unchallenged,” writes education pioneer Chris Whittle.
Whittle isn’t alone in believing that the world faces an urgent “learning crisis.” Experts recently gathered by the Center for Universal Education at Brookings (CUE) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) predict that, in little more than a decade, some 800 million children in low- and middle-income countries will “reach adulthood without the skills they need to thrive in work and life.”
Given such inequities, the CUE-IDB specialists argue that, “We must make room for bold new approaches that have the potential to deliver quality learning for all children and youth, not in a century, but today.”
America’s education system is in better shape than many countries yet still demands a big injection of “bold” and “new.” For example, too many U.S. schools remain ill-equipped to teach multiple languages or immerse students in foreign cultures.
Whittle School & Studios, Chris Whittle’s vision, embodies a modern approach to the Innovation Age, the first global Pre-K-through-12 school with campuses interspersed throughout the world. It’s a school that cultivates passion and a lifelong approach to learning. Every Whittle School student backpack will carry a laptop and an iPad. The “studios” in its name connotes the global talent available to its students.
If a young person wants to be the next Yo-Yo Ma, world-class cello lessons will be available. If a student wants to learn Mandarin, immersion in Chinese language and culture is available.
At a time when too many of our “leaders” seem skittish about the outside world and our radical new future, Whittle embraces globalism and everything it entails.
Over the next decade he plans to establish campuses in more than 30 cities. His mission is to prepare young people to become truly “global” citizens: well-rounded, multilingual, and intellectually ready to take on whatever challenges get thrown at them in a diverse and hypercompetitive world.
“The Whittle School & Studios approach is for children to learn by doing and by ‘going places’ in-person to ‘see and feel’ for themselves – not by sitting in a classroom taking a static test,” says Jill Watson, the mother of a 14-year-old Montgomery County (Maryland) boy planning to enroll at Whittle’s Van Ness campus next year in Washington, D.C.
“Too many traditional classes – even Advanced Placement courses – teach to a test, not to instill learning or to provoke thinking. The Whittle approach puts the emphasis where it belongs: on teaching kids to savor and appreciate our ever-evolving world,” Watson says.
The aim is for Whittle School & Studios campuses to work cooperatively through cross-cultural exchanges, and what they’re calling “Expedition Days,” those wondrous things known back in the day as “field trips.” Whittle’s goal is to create a new collective intelligence unlike any single-site institution in the world.
Can Whittle and his fellow pioneers revolutionize education – and make it stick? Here’s wishing them “good luck” in a dozen different languages.