GUEST BLOG: Reimagining the classroom for the information economy

Jaime Casap is the Chief Education Evangelist at Google, where he collaborates with school systems, educational organizations and leaders focused on building innovation and iteration into our education policies and practices. He delivered the morning keynote at the 2019 LEAP InnovatED Summit on Aug. 27. 

My mother chose to immigrate, alone, to the United States from Argentina because she believed—even in New York City’s crime-ridden Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood—we would have the greatest opportunities for success here. 

By the time I was in high school, I had been to four or five funerals. I had been shot at and had guns shoved in my mouth. But, from my vantage point on Manhattan’s West side, I could look just a few blocks East and see what success looked like. The entrepreneurs, writers and inventors who swarmed Midtown all had the backing of strong education. I knew that I had to invest everything I could in my schooling. 

For me, the system worked. I went to college then graduate school, and eventually landed a job as Chief Education Evangelist at Google, where I help educational organizations around the world continuously improve the quality of education. My story isn’t just the American dream—it’s a global dream.

However, although it’s a system that changed my life and my family’s, it’s a system that needs fresh thinking if it stands to disrupt poverty for generations to come. Our classrooms were designed in the industrial era to prepare students for factory jobs. They’re one-size-fits-all, throwing out as much information as possible to see how much students can absorb. But, factory-model classrooms cannot properly prepare students to take on a digital, information-driven economy. 

As we launch into a fourth industrial revolution, machines are rapidly taking over the performance of rote tasks, freeing up human capital for ever-more creative, innovative roles. Today’s students will fill jobs that do not yet exist, carving out their own career niches as they identify unmet needs. 

Today, the newest smartphones have more computing power than the world’s fastest supercomputers did 20 years ago. We are all carrying, in our pockets, thousands of times more processing speed than Larry Page and Sergey Brin used to launch Google. But 20 years from now, these top-of-the-line smartphones will look like antiques to the students entering Kindergarten next week. These students will have more power to innovate than any generation before them, and we cannot imagine what technical skills or information they will need to do so. 

Classrooms built primarily to transfer information will no longer be enough. Today’s students have instant access to a repository of all human knowledge, and information is evolving too fast for formal schooling to keep up—instead, we have to prepare students to synthesize it, negotiate meaning and leverage it to form original thoughts.

We have to reconstruct classrooms to look more like the modern workplace: providing space to iterate on projects that continually improve, instead of ending when it comes time to assign a letter grade; recognizing collaboration as a key element of innovation, instead of calling it out as cheating; prizing original thought over the repetition of old knowledge. 

I was excited to spend this year’s LEAP InnovatED Summit with educators from across Chicago—where, this month, about 25,000 Kindergartners entered their first classrooms. Many of them will live to see the 22nd century. I am heartened to know that they have begun their educational journeys in the epicenter of educational innovation—in a city where hundreds of schools and thousands of teachers are working to transform learning, building individual pathways that serve each student’s strengths, needs and interests. 

These students will have to solve problems we have not yet thought of. They won’t just have to answer new questions—they will have to ask their own. To arm them for success in the information economy, we must build classrooms that let them build things, test ideas and explore new areas. We must teach them to identify a problem they have never considered and advocate for the tools they need to solve it. We must let them collaborate, stacking together ideas as they reach toward a solution. Their futures will be personal, so we must make their learning personal, too.

Jaime Casap

Chief Education Evangelist, Google