Bringing Education Back to the Forum: Education Nation

With all the political firestorms recently over healthcare and America’s budget, the great task of improving education seems to have been lost (again) in the shuffle. This is a shame, since no nation can expect to produce a vibrant economy or healthy citizens without a superb education infrastructure. Indeed, if you think about the role education plays in a nation, in a community, and in one’s personal life, it won’t take you long to realize that education is the vital source from which much of what’s important to humans springs. So what’s being done in America to ensure that education flourishes? Not enough, probably, but steps are being taken in the right direction, and that has not been better exemplified than in Education Nation.

What is Education Nation? It’s a project begun by NBC News to “engage policymakers and the public” to stay committed to improving education. The endeavor was kicked off in September 2010 at NBC’s first Education Nation Summit in New York City. Here, politicians, businesspeople, technocrats, parents, students, tutors, and educators met to address the “challenges and opportunities” of education in the United States. Guests included President Obama, Colin Powell, Ann Curry and John Legend. During the week of September 26th, NBC News stations broadcasted the event and disseminated a high volume of reports on education. The point was simple: education in the US is in a crisis, and action is needed more so than ever in these times. President Obama noted,

“Historically, when we first set up the public school systems across the country, we were leaps and bounds ahead of the vast majority of countries around the world. That’s just not true anymore. They have caught up and in some cases they’re surpassing us…”

“There are a lot of contributing factors. But part of the challenge, I think, for the entire country is to understand that how well we do economically, whether jobs are created here, high-end jobs to support families and support the future of the American people, is going to depend on whether or not we can do something about these schools.”

These are euphonious words, to be sure, but has Education Nation had a tangible effect? It’s difficult to say for certain, but I’d say it is having some measurable positive effect. For starters, Education Nation brought together leaders from all walks of life to brainstorm. It’s safe to assume that some great ideas were swapped and new perspectives gained for folks who are definitely go-getters, and who are eager to improve education in the US and around the globe.

But the Education Nation initiative hasn’t stopped with getting big heads to talk to each other. It’s set up a Twitter feed that has juicy bits of information for followers. The content is primarily drawn from Education Nation’s own blog platform, which addresses a myriad of education concerns. Topics, written from over twenty contributors, include academic standards, the achievement gap, arts education, career training, class size, creativity, math and science, financial aid, technology, and education funding. Absent from the discussion, however, was any mention of tutoring, the pedagogical choice for children and young adults (just look at the kind of education Oxonians receive, and you’ll see what I mean). If Education Nation put some emphasis on this fantastic supplement to public, private, and home schooling, it would be really stellar. Its absence is a tad disheartening, and tutors might do well to consider letting NBC know as much by contacting them via educationnation.com. Tutors can still let their voice be heard by joining the conversation boards on Education Nation’s website. They can also sign-up to receive email updates and newsletters regarding education events and opportunities from Education Nation.

Education Nation also toured three American cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia to let educators, parents, students, and businesspeople speak about what they’re doing to bolster education in the United States. And of course, Education Nation will be back this September, starting the week of the 25th, to bring together some of the best and brightest minds to tackle the issue of education. Readers should definitely tune in.

Education Nation isn’t, it seems, meant to change anything directly. Instead, Education Nation seems focused on indirectly affecting education by raising awareness and educating folks about old and new ways to teach, including methods of introducing technology into the classroom to facilitate the learning process (and with tools like the iPad and others available, there’s plenty of new ground to break there!). For tutors, this could be a goldmine for new ideas on how to engage tutees, and I highly recommend Tutoring Match tutors check out the site to see what tips they could implement in their own tutoring methods. While some of the material is geared for the classroom, it wouldn’t be difficult to take some of the suggestions and work them into the micro-pedagogical atmosphere of tutoring.

Education Nation also provides copious resources for those looking to participate in the endeavor to better education, as well. Thus-far, it seems as though the initiative is performing well. The tour has drawn thousands of attendees, and the website, educationnation.com, is replete with resources, discussions, blogs, news and more. If Education Nation was a motivational speaker, it seems as though the audience is leaving ready to build Rome in a day…or maybe two.

Altruism, Microfinancing, and Vittana

While the debate over education and funding rages on and on in the United States, it’s easy to forget that for many across the world, a college education is well nigh impossible to get. But what if, to ameliorate the problem, entrepreneurs were to fund education the same way small businesses are funded abroad, i.e., via microfinancing? That’s the idea that Vittana, a new 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, has hatched, and so far, it seems to be a winner.

For Vittana, the most powerful tool to fight poverty is education. In many poor countries, the option of government subsidies and loans, private or otherwise, is non-existent. Vittana ameliorates the problem by securing a micro-loan from an individual. That loan is then applied to a young person’s schooling with low interest. Vitanna states the 99% of students repay their loans. The idea is that investing in a person’s education is more powerful than investing in a small business. Educating a person boosts a local economy first, and with time, the national economy, which in turn benefits global trade and wealth. For CEO and founder Kushal Chakrabarti, Vittani aims to show that “young people are bankable,” that they are a “sustainable investment.” What’s more, individuals who receive a loan and finish college earn far higher wages than their peers. According to one estimate, the difference can be as much as 291%.

And what does Vittana mean? It’s Telugu for “seed.”

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