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Educational Technology Breakthrough: Let Kids Teach Each Other

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There is significant finger pointing going on around education. Those fingers would be better off used for finger painting, for all the good it does. Blame the system, not the people. I believe everyone in the equation is doing the best they can with the tools they have.

In this budget cutting environment, a vast, valuable resource has been overlooked in the quest to reduce the cost of education: the kids.

Kids Teaching Kids has developed a free service that will ultimately allow any kid with access to a cell phone or computer to watch a video teaching how to solve every problem in every textbook.

Does that sound impossible? Consider these statistics: YouTube now has two billion, views a day; every day 35,000 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube.

The educational system acts on kids as if they are objects, without voice or intelligence. Imagine if the idea of competitive shows like America's Funniest Home Videos could be harnessed to motivate the creation of exciting, entertaining educational videos.

For centuries adults have thought they were smarter than kids, and perhaps were, but now the kids are smarter than the adults. Have you tried playing the current computer online games? Good luck.

Additionally, it's rare that I ever hear anyone say what a great job the educational establishment is doing -- it seems it is always the opposite. The average school seems empowered only to teach the minimum necessary to produce quiescent, docile employees who can work for minimum wage at fast food franchises.

But this is nothing new, as the educational system has, with a few shining exceptions, always had the objective of creating efficient worker bees. This may have started during the early immigration of our citizens, when education's purpose was to condition the children to work in factories.

The new direction focuses on test scores, how we are doing in relation to other countries and how our economy will decline because we aren't turning out enough scientists and engineers. It has rarely been about the quality of the individual, but about productivity.

Given the massive cutbacks in education we are about to experience, it is time to turn to the abundant resources we have ignored: the kids. It is time to change the objects of education into action verbs.

Let's consider that kids know more about what turns on kids than the adults do and will be better teachers, if we let them. Doubt that? Look at Disney's gold mine: kids entertaining kids on TV.

While we aren't there yet, it won't be long before every kid in the civilized world owns a smart phone capable of watching videos, as well as creating and sharing them. Every child will become a potential producer of educational video materials. All that is needed is a self-ranking method of organizing and presenting the content combined with a self-policing mechanism, such as the one used successfully by Wikipedia. Kids can be trusted.

Kids would much rather watch other kids than adults. When kids produce award-winning videos that can be used in the classroom for free, the game will change, the effectiveness of education will improve and costs will decline.

Think national contests for the best video explaining how cells reproduce, or the Pythagorean Theorem with rock music and visual effects. Or how about a video showing exactly how to determine the area of a complex shape? Let kids vote the way they do now on everything on the web. Let the cream rise to the top.

In less than ten minutes, Duncan, my eighth grader, can make a three minute video explaining a math problem and upload it to YouTube for instant global distribution. Using speech recognition technology, YouTube can then automatically translate it and create captions for it in 51 languages.

All of a sudden, kids with computer or cell phone access will have unlimited numbers of virtual tutors who will explain concepts in ways they can best understand, whatever form that might take.

Here is an example of a video Lily, another student in my daughter's Santa Rosa High School economics class did in a few days to help explain inflation. Notice the excitement and style compared to typical, boring, educational videos produced by adults:

America makes far less use of cell phones than the rest of the world, so the major impact will be in other countries -- unless we get on the band wagon first.

It is ironic that kids will be the ones leveraging technology to answer some of the problems budget cuts are causing in our educational system. Like every other industry, disruptive innovation comes from unexpected directions without considering or asking for permission from the authorities and institutions it affects. No matter how this puts pressure on educational dogma, the teachers, the parents, the publishers, and other stakeholders of the educational industry, this will happen. It cannot be stopped.

The Khan Academy, is providing free videos and has served 43 million. They use adults and it works; kids prefer watching kids, and that will work as well. Khan Academy videos will allow kids to learn the material themselves before teaching others around the world.

Education yearns to be free and run at its own speed. It will be universal sooner than we think.

When all the educational material you ever want is available for free on your cell phone and computer, do you think home schooling will increase? Do you think teachers will become more effective given unlimited entertaining, multisensory teaching materials produced by kids for kids?

Technology has always served the purpose of education, but this may be the first time kids will carry the ball using the latest hand-held combination of computer and video camera.

Disclaimer: This has been a pet project of mine for the last 10 years. Technology has finally caught up with the idea. If you want to support this approach and make it happen, please contact Kidsteachingkids.org. They are looking for leaders, a CTO, grant writers, sponsors, supporters, implementers, producers, and other excited people who can provide needed resources to make it happen faster.