If Professor Mitra is facilitating educational breakthrough in India with emphasis on technology and collaboration, Geoff Mulgan is making waves in Great Britain. Mulgan’s experiment began with a simple question. What kind of innovation could address two unique problems preventing educational success in Great Britain? In this way, like Professor Mitra, he started by identifying the problems unique to the specific education environment.
The first problem may sound familiar to folks in the United States. How do you reach huge groups of students who are just bored, dislike school and don’t see how school is relevant to future jobs? Alternatives like online education are options for disengaged students in the United States, but we don’t have a formal alternative for students who might perform better in an alternative environment to public education. The second problem that Mulgan addressed dealt with large numbers of employers who felt that “kids coming out of school weren’t actually ready for real work, didn’t have the right attitudes and experience.”
If you think that the second problem is a direct result of the first problem, you’re probably right. These problems are different than the educational challenges that Professor Mitra dealt with in India. They’re a classic case of first world problems. They require different solutions than third world problems. Mulgan’s solution involved envisioning a school that would have students breaking down doors to get in rather than the other way around.
In his Studio School solution, Mulgan imitated the “original idea of a studio in the Renaissance where work and learning are integrated.” Using this model, he formed small schools of between three hundred and four hundred students. These students had teachers, but they also had life skill coaches with practical projects that closely resembled a work environment. Two years after the start of the Studio School, the exams came in. Remember, just two years before, these students had been among the lowest performing students in the traditional public schools. In just two years, with an education alternative, they were among the top performers in the British GCSE’s—the British national exams. Mulgan’s efforts were so successful that there are now more than thirty-five Studio Schools across Great Britain.
It’s worth mentioning by the way, that Mulgan’s ideas didn’t require huge expenditures or massive infrastructure investments. Innovation can thrive if we’d just get out of the way and let people implement good ideas. Historically, in the United States, we’ve never accomplished huge educational gains by merely dumping more money into a system that’s not working well. We don’t need to completely revamp the education system; we just need to let good ideas happen. Professor Mitra and Geoff Mulgan are some of the best examples of innovative ideas resulting in effective and breathtaking results in the education space.
The issue we seem to have in the United States isn’t a lack of desire to make education better. And it’s not because we’re not natural innovators either. We’re the country that put men on the moon and a KFC on every corner. If we can’t identify solutions to our unique education challenges, it’s because we’re not serious about implementing good ideas or we’re too worried that introducing innovation into American classrooms might result in chaos. But if you’ve looked at the state of education in many of our school districts lately, it’s hard to imagine that giving a good idea the old college try could do any real harm.