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Forget Fair Trade and One-for-One Businesses, Do Good by Fixing the Education System

July 15, 2013
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/229049

One of the biggest opportunities for entrepreneurs today doesn't require any schooling to fix. Actually, it requires fixing school.

In my view, the millisecond we reduced learners to standardized testing and data-driven outcomes, we sentenced our young people to lives bereft of innovation and creative thinking. From traditions of experimentation, inspiration, curiosity piquing and socialization, we've transformed schools into operations-focused, number-gaming and uncreative nightmares.

Despite this bleak picture, today's education failings amount to a pretty big business opportunity for the right entrepreneurs. Those with a propensity and a passion to embrace what was recently referred to in a Harvard Business Review blog post as a 'Brave New World' approach to education innovation can have a major impact on education over the next decade.

Individuals who expect a quick-hit need not apply, however. For those with vision who are willing to fight the good fight, having an understanding of the four principles below, originally outlined in Maria Popova’s “Don’t Go Back to School: How to the Fuel the Internal Engine of Learning,” can, at least, start a conversation about transformational education reform:

1. Learning is collaborative.
A new trend toward online learning has certainly lowered the barriers to entry for many individuals wanting to brush up on skills or learn a new discipline, but the idea that learning in isolation is as valuable (or a worse thought: more valuable) than interdependent learning is relatively unfounded. Education innovation must take into account the importance of making physical location and human interaction the basis upon which the system is built. Technology enables and enhances learning, but it cannot be the end unto itself.

Related: The College Question for Entrepreneurs Gains Momentum as Costs Surge

2. The importance of academic credentials is declining.
Just passing a test and getting good grades isn't enough anymore. In a lecture I attended several months ago at Stanford University, author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman reflected on this idea with a handful of some the U.S.'s most respected and educated professionals. When asking them whom they were hiring and firing, almost unanimously they were hiring those with the ability to think creatively. Meaning they were firing or not hiring those who could simply accomplish tasks efficiently while regurgitating fact-based information.

Related: Tune in, Turn on and Drop out: A Look at the Popular Thiel Fellowship

3. People learn both inside and outside of the classroom.
How can entrepreneurs build an alternative education system that maximizes a structured school day, yet takes into account this principle? We tend to think of education as something that takes place in a concrete building for eight hours a day. And from this model we believe we can produce individuals who are passionate about something and who will discover what career they want to pursue. How many kids do you see come out of college these days who don’t know what the hell they want to do for a living? I rest my case.

Related: The Skinny on Widening Student Debt Loads (Infographic)

4. Learning must provide intrinsic motivation beyond extrinsic rewards.
The Bengali poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore once reflected: "A child is in his natural setting amidst the flowers and the songbirds. There he may more easily express the hidden wealth of his individual endowment. True education is not pumped and crammed from outward sources, but aids in bringing to the surface the infinite hoard of wisdom within.”

Entrepreneurs are by nature change agents. It’s that simple. If you think you are an entrepreneur, then change something that will have unprecedented impact. Forget building a mobile-dating app. Forget building business software that allows employees to integrate G-chat. Do something that will matter. It may take you a decade to get there, but when you do your life will have meant something…because you will have fulfilled your intrinsic need to motivate others and drive change.

How do you think the education system needs to be overhauled? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.