In this video from the “Revolutions in Progress” session at Techonomy 2011 in Tucson, Ariz., Scott Cook, Founder and Chairman of Intuit, discusses how technology can revolutionize education in the same way it has transformed the music and entertainment industries. Digital technology has given musicians and artists a global reach that was unfathomable 100 years ago. Why not treat education in the same way, suggests Cook, and give students access to the best teachers and lessons available using new technologies? Roger McNamee, Managing Director of Elevation Partners, moderated the session.
Cook: Last weekend I was with some friends—one, a Silicon Valley executive, told me of his daughter, who found at USF a professor who was so inspiring that she changed her whole career, her whole major. She is now a computer science major and is so excited about it. The power of teachers—inspiring teachers to inspire students, and that works whether you’re a privileged daughter of a Silicon Valley executive or a totally underprivileged student in South Central L.A. taught by Jaime Escalante.  And this is where technology…now, quick cut to the history of entertainment. In 1900, a great way to die poor was to be an actor, a musician, or a ball player.
McNamee: By the way, musician is still a good way to be poor.
Cook: You’re the expert. Now, look at the Forbes list, and you see these rock stars, ball players, entertainers, with hundred million dollar a year annual earnings, not from stock options or anything like that, just cash money. What caused that? Technology. Recording technology, distribution broadcast technology that now enables an actor, musician, or ball player to play to an audience not limited by the reach of their voice in a hall, but to play it to a worldwide audience. Now, what does that mean for the audience? This morning I started my day in Galt, California, Central Valley, which reminds me, in 1900 the United States was rural. What was the quality of the best actor or singer in Galt, California?
McNamee: Big voice.
Cook: Not very good. And that was the entertainment that everyone had to be satisfied with 110 years ago. Today, we listen to the best in the world. The best in the world, whether it’s Rihanna or Snoop Dog or whatever, all brought to us by technology. Now, what happens to the quality? Superbly better. And the quantity of consumption? A hundred years ago you might see music performed, or a play, once a month, maybe once a year. Today we’re surrounded. TV is on an average of six hours a day. Music in our cars, in our homes, in our ears, in our pockets. One field has not benefitted from this revolution, one entertainment field: education.  Teachers are still limited to play to an audience of 30. So think of the economics that happen when you’re limited to an audience of 30. Now think about it from the students’ standpoint. Take a student at local Dove Valley Elementary, fourth grade science. Does that student get the best science teacher in all of Tucson, or the best science teacher in Dove Valley Elementary? No. They get whoever they got. Odds are it’s a teacher who took English, or education, and has no passion for science.  Technology now allows us to change that. Two words: Khan Academy. Here’s the world’s most prolific educator. He’s produced over 2,600 ten-minute lectures, and he’s the most viewed by 3.5 million visitors a month. What that now means is teachers are flipping the day. Why do a shitty lecture on science when you can have one of the world’s best do the lecture on science? And why waste classroom time for that lousy lecture? They flip the day, assign Khan Academy at night, the students do that for homework, and then they come in and do the problem sets in class, where the teacher can do what only a local teacher can do, which is one-on-one coaching, discipline, encouragement. What this creates is not only much more time spent one-on-one in the classroom helping every student where they are; it also creates rock-star teachers. Now, Sal Kahn does it as a non-profit, but people are throwing millions at it to support his work. But I can see a day when there is non- and for-profit teachers who become famous just like entertainers, because they are the best in the world teaching what they teach, and they are viewed by people all over the world. The worst schools in India—20 percent of the teachers in India do no show up to their public school jobs on any given day. No longer do you have to be dependent on that. You can get the best in the world.