Although all the learning and practicing and taking exams is done by the students, they do not exist independently. There is an entire ecosystem surrounding the student that wishes her to succeed, to be a better person, a good learner and have a successful career. Parents, Teachers and the school management all wish and in fact strive very hard for that to happen. So what tools can be provided to them to ensure their task of focussing on the bigger picture and ensuring success is fulfilled.
Let me put myself in their positions and think, I have played each of these roles at one point in my life.
As a parent, obviously I wish that my child succeeds and has an all-round development, I would wish for her to be equally good at sports, studies, music, foreign language or whatever else she likes and be the best she can be. I would not want to pressurize her on studies or other aspects but at the same time be able to keep an eye on what’s going on and how is she progressing. This has to happen without her knowing that I am keeping an eye, as that tends to turn the kids off. I would also like to see if she is actually learning the concepts and understanding it and not just memorizing and moving ahead and from time to time see how good she is compared to others in the class, in the school, in the neighbourhood, the state and the country. I definitely want her to go to the ivy-league or one of the best colleges after high school.
So, coming back from the parent mode, as an entrepreneur what tools can I provide the parents to ensure all the above things happen? To ensure the parent can check her child’s progress we can always give them various reports, one giving a bird’s eye view and others giving more details, depending on what depth the parent wish to go to check the progress they can dive deeper. We can provide the parent tools to be able to communicate with the teachers and others in the school to ensure that she is progressing well, understanding everything and paying attention. So whenever there is some sign of digression, the parent can intervene and ensure that everything stays on course. Finally, I can provide tools to the parent to compare where her child stands compared to others in the school, community, state and the country. We also need to provide tools to compare with other countries to get a better feel of how my child will compete in the real world when she will be continuously pushed by kids from China, India, Russia and other countries.
Putting myself in teacher’s shoes now. As a teacher I have 2 goals. The overall class to perform great and each individual student realize his/her true potential and maximize that. How do I achieve that? When I am teaching I have to ensure I teach considering the average of the entire class. I cannot be too fast or too slow and teach concepts that are too simple or too complex. It has to be average to cater almost the entire class. And I know that leaves out some brilliant students who feel they know this and want to be challenged more and a few students who need to clear their concepts before they can understand what I am teaching. I cannot stop for them to disrupt the speed of the overall class. I am in a dilemma here. I can always stay back and take sessions for the students who are lacking a bit behind, but sometimes they are not motivated enough to stay back and other times there is simply not enough time. Also, I need to ensure continuously how many topics in a particular year have I completed, how many more to go, will I be able to complete them, manage them, teach them the way they should be ? And there is always a comparison of how many class is doing compared to the other school just around the block or how my students and I are performing compared to a top charter school in Boston.
So as a product developer and trying to help teachers what I think is that I cannot and should not change or interfere the way the teachers teach. No videos can replace a real live teacher. They are doing what they are doing best; I should try to supplement them with tools that can ease some of their headaches. For starters, I can provide a tool to show which students are doing well and who needs intervention. That’s the easy stuff. Reports to get that information. Again, tools giving them the overall picture of the class and comparison with other classes and schools can be developed and given to teachers. But the challenge is to ensure that students take the practice tests, learn stuff and implement. They should be motivated and excited enough to do that. A tool to communicate effectively with the parents to ensure that they the practice at home so the next day when they are in school they are not behind the class. Gaming thrown in to keep the students engaged also helps. The teachers have tons of first-hand experience in what the student will understand and what she needs to learn in increasing level of difficulty. Involving them in creating content builds a very powerful and active community. Finally, all this has to be wrapped up neatly and intuitively. Teachers are busy people and they should not waste a single second on figuring out how to generate report or communicate or find details for a student. All their energies should focus on building our future – our children.
This area is where I have minimum experience so I contacted a few principals, met a few people who have served as principals or in management and tried picking their brain.
Most of the principals are involved in 3 activities – Management, Development and Reporting.
Management mainly involves finances of the schools, supervision of the staff, recruiting new staff etc. Development involves professional development and improvement of teaching and learning in the school, encouraging activities and programs other than academia, enhancing the school image and reputation, monitoring and revising (if need be) curriculum etc. Reporting involves giving periodic updates to Superintendent of Schools or the Board involved.
Most principals would be worried about 2 things related to teaching – How effective are the learning methods and how to provide a favourable environment to the students to maximize their learning experience. It is also important to ensure the quality remains top notch to attract more students. In fact all public schools should be run as private organizations to ensure quality and discipline. But that’s a separate discussion.
So what can we do to help principals and management? We can provide them newsletters etc. to keep them updated on the education world. We can also provide reports to compare different classes so that they can intervene whenever quality drops in any of the classes. Reports to keep them posted on the progress of top schools will help them benchmark against the best and ensure they can keep on attracting good talent. Tools for a direct communication channel with parents will increase the confidence of the parents.
Armed with this knowledge and information we start architecting our software and equip it with all the necessary tools to help teachers, parents and schools provide the best education in the most effective way to our students and help them realize their true potential.