Racing for the Future: The Worldwide Business of EDU

When the pandemic began to spread rapidly in the early parts of 2020, few people knew what would happen next. Beside massive municipal shutdowns, corporate bankruptcies and a sluggish market, the impact of the coronsvirus on education has been massive.

According to UNESCO, or the United Nations Educational Scientific Organization, Covid-19 resulted in a staggering increase in the number of out-of-school childeren and youth. Before the pandemic in 2019, it was estimated that 258 million children were not in school. It is likely that number tripled or doubled during the pandemic.

Before the pandemic in 2019, it was estimated that 258 million children were not in school. 

Many cities and nations tried to fill the gap with online classes and distance learning. That remains a gargantuan task, particularly for less digital cities and communities and underserved populations where access to technology and internet is low. The learning curve is further complicated in such communities where tech literacy is challenged.

According to a release by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, 15 million children will be educated via digital broadcasts including radio. While nations like Kenya have had to be creative in the ways it teaches students a much larger question emerges concerning the quality of education overall.

Education has a powerful impact on business. How nations focus on education and value it often shapes the landscape of their economy for generations to come. India is an ideal example of a nation that saw a growing industry and determined to fill it. India’s dominance in tech sectors began 50 years ago with the establishment of the Indian Technical Institute of Karagpur. Currently India’s literacy rate is impressive–not just for its urban advances, but rural ones.

Statistics from STATISTICA show that India has an an urban literacy rate of 85 percent, and a rural literacy rate of 69 percent. The India Brand Equity Foundation also notes that India is the second largest online learning market in the world. It is second only to the United States with estimates of that market rising to nearly 10 billion users and amassing nearly $1.9 billion dollars.

And India’s strategy has been working. It’s focus on STEM education and advancing its educational market is slated to reach 3.5 billion in 2021. However India’s success did not happen with luck, but careful planning and investment by its government on all levels including major policy reform and legislative action. India has not only carved out a niche in tech, but pharmaceuticals and medical equipment among others.

According to data from the US Immigration Services and a recent report from The Economic Times Indian nationals hold the highest number of H1B visas, usurping 75 percent of all issued. Just recently, in late 2020, the US removed its cap on H1B Visa holders permitting even more high skilled tech worker into the nation. H1B Visas have been a boon for India, not only in terms of an outsourced workforce but also in remittances. In 2017, India received $68.968 billion dollars in remittances from the US alone. India now claimes 12 percent of all remittances worldwide.

Education can make or break an economy. Part of the US’s struggle today is its waning education system. But it is not alone in its need to reengineer an education system for the new millennium. A popular TED Talk which features, Dr. Chika Ezeanya-Esiobu who tells the story of how she bought an alphabet sheet for her daughter is a telling depiction. The Nigerian educator reconsidered her purchase because she believed it did not suit the cultural context which she associated with an African reality.

When I had time to fully open the alphabet sheet and take a more detailed look at it, I knew I was not going to use that to teach my daughter. I regretted my purchase. Why so? Looking at the alphabet sheet reminded me of the fact that not much has changed in the education curricula in Africa. Some decades back, I was taught out of a similar alphabet sheet. And because of that, I struggled for years. I struggled to reconcile my reality with the formal education I received in school, in the schools I attended. 

Chika Ezeanya Esiobu, Ted Talk 2017

The TED Talk sought to highlight the impact of colonial education and it’s impact on African students. The speaker realized that “A is for Apple” on the alphabet sheet did not apply to her nor her daughter’s lived African experience where apples were rare. But her story reveals a much larger construct, when one realizes apples are abundant in the African nation of Liberia Ezeanya-Esiobu’s delimma is then, not merely about colonial education that must change, but education that must be serious, targeted and nuanced for the particular populace it serves.

The need then, is for local and national governments to focus money, resources, experts and policy on creating an education system for the country they want–not the one they have. A Colonial education system will only ever produce more colonial results–peonage, poverty and socio-economic retardation. But one specifically geared for the populace will yield greater results.

Science is on the side of caring specific, targeted education. It yields results that lead to better business and economic outcomes. Research by Indian computor scientist and educational theorist, Sugata Mitra revealed in a TED Talk that children from India’s Slums were able to understand and learn DNA gene sequencing from videos without a tutor. He further found that with simple verbal encouragement, children were able to increase their learning when they faced an impasse in understanding. This is where the caring comes in.

Perhaps one of the most amazing aspects of targeted education was during the post-Slavery Reconstruction Era in the USA, when Black Americans newly emancipated from hundreds of years of American Chattel slavery, denied the right to read, were able to educate themselves through small one-room schools to produce the purveyors of some of the world’s most critical scientific, agricultural and technological discoveries. Creating thriving communities and towns as survivors of human rights atrocities and crimes against humanity, self-taught African Americans constructed the building blocks of modern life. Through targeted education and caring educators they forged a better future from the ruins of a life once held hostage and embondaged.

Again the world sits on the precipice of a new reality. Education must change and the tools required to harness a better future lies in the hands of those who would dare to engineer an education system that produces a more competitive and fully engaged populace. Whether we know it or not, the market is following those who are most prepared and who are engineering their local populations for competence. China, India, South America, southeast Asia and others are starting to see the incredible value in preparing a literate and engaged populace ready to lead and power industry forward.

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