Sunday, March 6, 2011

Keynote of the Future

Several times a year, Apple releases new products or significant updates to existing products. To generate excitement for the new products, Steve Jobs gives a keynote address highlighting what’s new and compelling about them. Mr Jobs invites the product managers on stage at the events to present a deeper dive of each new product or set of features. What strikes me most about these keynotes is the glee with which Mr Jobs and his employees showcase their new products. They clearly love their careers and they love Apple.

The most recent keynote for the new iPad 2 got me thinking about great products and industries in general. These days, it is tough to find industries that wow us as much as the computer industry. Year after year, people around the world reap the benefits of all the research and development that goes into the products of technology that we enjoy every day. Who can recall how much time was required to research something as simple as the first movie Cary Grant starred in or the population of Austin, Texas in 1980, to cite a few slightly arcane examples? Hours? Probably, because in order to find that information one had to visit a public library and then one could only get that information during opening hours. Today it takes seconds, thanks to search engines like Google and the World Wide Web in general.

I also got to thinking about those industries that remain stagnant for years or even decades. Industries that don’t wow us with their innovation because they have none. Industries that we tolerate because most of us cannot imagine that schools or post offices could operate any differently from the way they do. We have grown accustomed over more than a century to see them as necessarily state run enterprises with a mediocre at best track record at educating children or delivering the mail.

So what does this have to do with Apple keynotes? Nothing, really. But it raises a few questions: Why is there no excitement about new teaching methods? Why is there no famous CEO in the education field getting up on stage in front of millions of eager customers to show off his latest innovations in teaching mathematics to young children?  The answer, sadly, is there is no such thing as a market in education. The entire notion that education could be an exciting marketplace of ideas and competing for profit schools and universities is an anathema.

To an old friend of mine who is a public school teacher, the idea of capitalism applied to education is bizarre. Obviously education must be state run or else how would kids get a decent education? Without the beneficent state, kids would have no schools to attend because their parents couldn’t afford it. Of course the teachers would make a pittance without the public unions to collectively bargain for their salaries and benefits. Everyone knows this - right?

If it is true education must be a state run monopoly, then why is it other industries thrive as private, for profit entities? Why is it the very marketplace that has made our lives more efficient, safe and even fun inappropriate when it comes to the most important thing in a child’s life - the development of his mental faculty? Wouldn’t great teachers relish the idea that their greatness be rewarded with an ever rising standard of living, just as computer programmers have enjoyed for decades?

In some distant future - but not too distant one hopes - we may one day see the rise of the Education Keynote. It will attract millions of eager parents and teachers clamouring to get a glimpse at the latest marvels of the education world. iMaths 2030 - a mere $10 upgrade from iMaths 2028, with a money back guarantee if your eight-year-old son or daughter fails to master differential equations in three months’ time. Now that is a future I think is worth fighting for - not just the return of rigour in education, but in the innovations that we have come to expect in the high tech world of 2011.


  1. Completely agree on this. We won't secure our freedom or our future until we free education.

  2. you are so right and the problem is worldwide. thank you for making this striking paralel !