ACCORDING TO an early 2022 Global Market and Forecast Report from researchandmarkets.com, the global “EdTech” market is predicted to reach roughly $600 billion by 2027. That Is good news for venture capitalists and market promoters who see themselves in the “EdTech space.” It is also, possibly, good news for some investors. Despite the fact that the recent stock market has treated many EdTech stocks badly, the long-term outlook of Ed Tech firms and investors remains bullish, because they see the dream they have had for a long time — a future of today’s education further spread around the world by bringing various educational technologies to “scale” — as finally coming. Although most Edtech investors will, I believe, lose badly, some will surely get wealthier — including a few venture capitalists, particularly those making money from conferences.
But in terms of what those multi-hundreds of billions of dollars in EdTech investment is doing for humanity, and for preparing its 2 billion young people for their future almost all of it, I believe, is an enormous waste of human treasure, resources and energy. And I find that sad, because all of these resources could — with only a little shift in perspective — be put to enormously better and more productive use for young people, and for humanity in general.
“But wait — the future will be filled with technology,” you might think. “Don’t we need to prepare our kids to use technology?” you might ask. I do not believe we should take any new technology away from our young people, and I certainly don’t believe we should stop giving young people access to, and investing in, and technology that helps them solve real problems.
It is not a question of whether today’s kids need technology for the future — of course they do. It is a question, rather, of what technology they need.
To truly prepare our young people for their future, the shift we need is to stop creating and selling technology that attempts to “educate” young people in a 20th century way by providing content, certification, and record keeping through technology — I.e., we need to to stop making and selling more “Edtech.” There is little benefit to be gained by attempting to do these old “educational” things with technology — or by getting our old education to what many refer to as “scale” though technology — because the need for 20th century education — in any form — is going away — and being replaced by something far better. It certainly does not make a lot of sense to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to further spread something whose usefulness in preparing young people for the future has already begun to expire.
What is needed instead, is to create technology that EMPOWERS young people (and anyone else interested) to improve their world and make it a better place. And empowers them NOW — immediately — and not tomorrow, or “when they grow up.”
A Change in Perspective About Young People
There is currently a big transition in perspective, frame, and paradigm taking place in the world with regard to young people. It is from “educating them” — having them learn specific stuff in advance — a process which was extremely useful in the 20th century — to “empowering them” — to their usefully accomplishing in the real world, with learning as a by-product. It is far more empowerment, and a lot less education (if any) that is needed by children in the 21st century.
Sadly, a great many have not yet made the mental transition to this new frame and perspective. In the new paradigm. It is not that young people no longer need to know things — that is the fear of many adults — it is rather that the things young people know should flow from their own interests, and as a result of real world-improving projects they choose and want to do — and not from what we tell them they must learn, which is what education is.
Some might call this a need for more “learning by doing,” but that is not correct. The goal, and product has changed. It is no longer learning but accomplishing. Some learning inevitably comes along the way as a by-product of accomplishing — and that type of learning, unlike the learning done in school, is typically retained for a lifetime.
Real-world accomplishment is something that today is almost totally lacking in our education, whether in-person or technology-based — and generally lacking overall for young people growing up — to their detriment. Where it does exist it is almost always a “dessert,” and never the main meal.
Yet for their quickly changing world, the goal of learning for years and years in advance about things we already know — which is the goal of almost all education — is no longer a useful one. You do not get empowered by learning in advance — that is the educational promise and it is a myth. Becoming educated by spending multiple years learning in school may “potentially” empower you — that at least is the hope. But until you accomplish something with impact, you are not empowered. On the other hand, accomplishing real-world projects that have Measurable Positive Impact always empowers, because it demonstrates you can. Sadly, real-world accomplishment is almost completely lacking in the world’s education system — and in our hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of EdTech.
EMPOTECH — a New Category
So I am proposing a new category for software and investment that will help make this needed transition faster and easier. I call it not Edtech, but EMPOTECH — technology that empowers. It is a category that today is sorely lacking and in need of being created.
Some might say “all technology empowers humans, in the sense that they can do more than they could without it.” That may be true, but for me empowerment and technology that empowers have a much more specific meaning. For the Empowerment Movement with which I am associated, empowerment is, very specifically, self-direction (i.e., choosing for yourself what you want to work on) PLUS real-world accomplishment with Measurable Positive Impact. Both of these are now almost completely missing from what the world calls “education.” In the few cases that they are there, they are an add-on and an afterthought.
Why Move to Empowerment?
Why do we need to move, as quickly as we can, from educating our young people to empowering them? Our young people are increasingly and quickly acquiring powerful new capabilities to accomplish in the world, often — although not exclusively — through the technology now making its way into more and more of their pockets. In 20 years, the time it takes for today’s young generation to become adults, the personal technology available to them will be more than a billion times more powerful, and, at some levels, close to universally distributed. It is time for young people to be starting to use their powerful new capabilities in positive, world improving ways that will prepare them to do far more of this in their future. Even today’s “fanciest” Edtech does not do this. All it does is move some of our old education online.
Let me offer, as an example of the power I am talking about, Greta Thunberg — a young person already known to many in the world. Greta was born in the 21st-century (2003), and saw, at an early age, a big problem — climate change — that adults were not doing very much about. So Greta started on a quest for climate action. She began by using the old, 20th century tools from her parent’s generation — she demonstrated in front of public buildings, and later spoke to “influential” groups of adults, including the United Nations. Greta got much 20th century style publicity, but, sadly, she saw very little 21st century action.
Gradually, she began to realize that new tools were available to her. She used technology to organize young people in various countries through her “Fridays for Future” initiative, which included several one-day “strikes” by students in various countries. Sadly, this, too, produced very little more action on the part of adults.
The New Generation’s Full Power
But Greta is — as is much of her generation — in reality far more powerful (although they have hardly realized, as yet, the full extent of this power). What if Greta, and others, really started using their 21st-century powers to the full extent they can?
For example, what if instead of organizing occasional, or even weekly, local, one-day strikes, Greta put out a call, over various media, to every student in the world, to go on strike permanently from school — until meaningful climate action got taken?
Is it within Greta’s power to do this? Absolutely. Would enough young people respond? It’s not guaranteed, but many probably would — even if just to get out of school. Would the kids on strike lose going to school for a while? Yes in terms of keeping up with the curriculum, but not in the long run — in the long run they would win big by saving the planet.
But would adults get upset if their children chose to stop going to school? — You bet! It might just lead them to push for real action.
I’m certainly not saying this is the only tool and path open to Greta or to her contemporaries who want change. I don’t know if this approach would succeed.
But I do know that Greta and her contemporaries are not yet using very much of the power they now have. One reason is that they do not yet realize how much power they now hold in their hands. A second reason is almost certainly that we don’t tell them about it (we may be afraid of it.) And a third reason they are not using their power as much as they could is that the tools to use it have not been created yet.
There are plenty of tools in the world for businesspeople to use to get things done. Most companies buy them or create their own. But where are the tools for young people to get things done in the world? Where are the tools to help them self-organize into worldwide teams to get their positive projects done? Where are the tools for them to easily find previous projects and create new projects in areas they are interested in? Where are the tools to pass projects around the world from time zone to time zone as is often done in business? Where are the tools to find and recruit young peers who have similar interests and goals to useful projects? Where are the tools for mentoring, by both young people and adult coaches? Where are the tools for young people to manage distributed, worldwide projects? Where are the tools for simultaneous translation for student groups (that get better by recording young people’s voices)? Where are the tools for young people to watch out for each other as this happens and keep negative things from occurring?
These are the kinds of new youth-oriented tools which would comprise EMPOTECH — technology that empowers young people (and all people) to get projects done — large or small — that impact their world in positive ways. Some of this may even exist, but it is not widely used — or promoted as a new category.
Are there adult role models for this kind of action — real-world accomplishment with Measurable Positive Impact — that young people can look to for inspiration? Some, perhaps, but not very many. In technology, too many adults are focused on making a dollar — or preferably billions — from what young people can now do. Video game makers and software tool creators in the world seem more interested in promoting screen time and in-game purchases on their apps — and collecting the profits that brings — than in helping young people use new technologies to better their own world. Edtech creators — even when not profit-driven — often choose to stick closely to the past. The well-known Khan Academy is, in a very real sense, “The Museum of 20th Century Education.”
I suggest, rather, that young people look for role models in two directions. For using technology to help humanity I suggest they look to Elon Musk. Although not a perfect role model, Elon is a poster boy for using current technology to the fullest to advance humanity’s goals as he sees them. So I also suggest young people take as role models people like Mahatma Gandhi and, perhaps more recently, Greta Thunberg and Malala, for a moral compass. Ideally, many from this new digital native generation will eventually combine the technology and the morality through EMPOTECH.
A New Frame
The key shift from EdTech to EMPOTECH is the mental mindset, paradigm, and frame of adults looking at young people. 20th century education — including EdTech — was and is all about putting things into young people’s heads — beliefs, values, curriculum and more. Now, doing that — particularly “at scale,” or universally — is no longer what we need. What is needed today is to bring things out of young people’s heads — new ideas, new projects, new positive accomplishments that help the world.
That is why — despite that $600 billion market estimate — EdTech no longer matters for our young people. It is now the time for EMPOTECH.
Marc Prensky has given keynotes in over 45 countries on 6 continents. He is the coiner of the term ‘digital native’ — now in the Oxford English Dictionary — and the award-winning author of 10 books. His work is taught in graduate schools around the world. Marc’s newest volume, EMPOWERED!: Re-framing ‘Growing Up’ for a New Age has been called visionary, transformative, moving, and extremely insightful. Marc serves on the Advisory Boards of several organizations. He started the Global Ministry of Empowerment Accomplishment and Impact and the Two Billion Kids Project to empower every young person on the planet to better their world. He can be contacted at email@example.com.