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Bill Gates Answers Questions From Arianna And Readers In Exclusive Huffington Post Impact Livestream

First Posted: 02/02/2012 1:06 pm EST Updated: 02/02/2012 6:02 pm EST

If you could ask billionaire and activist Bill Gates one question, what would it be?

Gates answered questions from HuffPost readers and Arianna Huffington related to poverty, global health and global development in a 30-minute livestream Thursday exclusively on Huffington Post Impact.

He focused on the effect individual people can have by sounding their political voices, volunteering their time or giving to causes that matter to them. Gates also expressed his dedication to ending diseases such as Polio, which is 99 percent eradicated.

The Q and A centered on the critical issues he addressed in his recently released annual letter.

Gates pointed out in his missive that while great strides have been made in reducing poverty and improving health care for the impoverished, 15 percent of the world lives in extreme poverty and more money needs to be invested in vaccines and contraceptives.

"The relatively small amount of money invested in development has changed the future prospects of billions of people -- and it can do the same for billions more if we make the choice to continue investing in innovation," Gates wrote. "We will repeat that message over and over in our speeches and interviews, and on gatesfoundation.org and gatesnotes.com, because we are convinced that when people hear stories of the lives they've helped to improve, they want to do more, not less."

Prior to the livestream, Bill Gates chose to answer the following three questions from Arianna Huffington:

Arianna Huffington: You have stated that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's goal is to make sure that all students graduate from high school, that they are ready to succeed in college and that any young adult who wants to get a post-secondary degree, should have the means to do so. Do you feel that our education system has made any progress in finding a way to properly evaluate and incentivize teachers? In your opinion, how will the education space be impacted by social media and the open availability of great educators via online classrooms like Khan Academy?

Bill Gates: It’s hard to believe, but 95 percent of our teachers are not given specific feedback about how to improve. Most people who become teachers do so because they’re passionate about kids. It’s astonishing what great teachers can do for their students. But the remarkable thing about great teachers today is that in most cases nobody taught them how to be great. They figured it out on their own.

So with respect to evaluations and incentives for teachers, we have a lot of work to do, but we are seeing good progress. The evidence is clear that teachers matter more to student achievement than any other factor inside schools. Our foundation is investing in bold research and reform efforts to better understand what makes a teacher effective and to re-think the way we evaluate teachers in our schools in order to improve student outcomes as well as recruit and retain terrific teachers.

With the help of local union affiliates, we have learned a lot already. Ultimately, the goal is to gather high-quality feedback from multiple sources— student achievement, student surveys, classroom observation and fellow teachers—so that teachers know how to improve. I think it is clear that a system can be designed that teachers agree is fair, has modest overhead, and rewards the teachers who are doing the most for their students.

We are also at a turning point where innovative education technologies will start to make a real difference for students and teachers. I’m excited to see more and more schools “flip” the classroom so that passive activities like lectures are done outside of class and in-class time is used for more collaborative and personal interactions between students and teachers.

Khan Academy is a great example of a free resource that any teacher can use to take full advantage of class time and make sure all students advance at their own pace. High quality online lectures make it easier for teachers to spend more time problem solving with students one-on-one and in small groups in the classroom. I believe technology will let us dramatically improve education despite the budget constraints.

Social networking is definitely one of the most promising areas because it helps teachers and students connect in ways that naturally augment what’s going on in the classroom. Services like Edmodo, are really starting to take off because teachers can manage all aspects of the classroom using a platform with which most people are comfortable.

Many good technologies remain unused, and teachers still end up spending too much of their own time and money. More needs to be done to equip teachers with the tools and information they need to make learning more personalized and engaging. I think there’s no limit to what a teacher with the right tools and information can do.

AH: With so much information available, great story telling has become important when discussing the world’s most pressing issues. With this end in mind, we launched our Impact section on the Huffington Post in order to inspire and take action. As we begin to look at studies which show a rise in global temperatures, more droughts, more floods and lack of clean drinking water, our global food supply becomes a big concern for everyone. With the global population predicted to grow by as much as 40 percent over the next four decades, what do you feel are some of the best innovations that have been made to provide better tools and knowledge so people can grow their own food?

BG: Agriculture was the big focus of my annual letter this year. Right now, just over 1 billion people—about 15 percent of the people in the world—live in extreme poverty. On most days, they worry about whether their family will have enough food to eat. There is irony in this, since most of them live and work on farms. The problem is that their farms, which tend to be just a couple acres in size, don’t produce enough food for a family to live on.

We’ve found that the investments that have the biggest returns are those that provide poor farmers—often women—with sustainable land management practices, education, and connections to functioning markets. So it’s shocking to me how little money is spent on agricultural research. In total, only $3 billion per year is spent on researching the seven most important crops. But of that $3 billion, just ten percent of the spending focuses on the needs of poor countries.

So it’s critical we focus on the areas where there is less profit opportunity but where the impact for those in need is very high. Our foundation is looking at innovative partnerships with private companies where the companies donate proprietary assets in which they have invested hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as their expertise, to help make appropriate varieties available royalty-free to poor farmers.

Scientific innovations also play a big role. This week, I wrote on The Gates Notes (www.gatesnotes.com) about an agricultural scientist, James Dale, from Australia who is doing advanced research on bananas—a dietary staple in many parts of Africa and Asia—to make them more nutritious and resistant to a dangerous fungus. Disease-resistant crops are life-changing for small farmers who lack the means to survive a lost harvest. There is also an extremely important revolution—based on understanding plant genes—taking place in the plant sciences. The tools that enable this revolution were created to help cure human diseases. The field of agriculture is just now in the process of figuring out how to take advantage of these tools, but it’s clear that they will greatly accelerate the pace of plant research. It is hard to overstate how valuable it is to have all the incredible tools that are used for human disease to study plants.

AH: What do you and Melinda mean when you call yourselves "impatient optimists"?

BG: Melinda and I believe that every person deserves the chance to live a healthy, productive life. And we see tremendous progress is happening to make that a reality, but there are still great inequities we’re impatient to see addressed.

We are optimists because we have seen living proof that seemingly intractable problems like polio in India can be solved. We have witnessed people accomplish amazing things with just a little extra help. We have met people around the world whose lives have been changed or even saved by global aid or global health solutions.

We are impatient, because as long as there are children deprived of a quality education, going hungry or dying of malaria simply by virtue of where they are born, solutions can’t come fast enough.


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Filed by Eleanor Goldberg  |