Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bill Gates on curious kids

Fast Company's Anya Kamenetz interviewed Bill Gates for the most recent issue of the magazine. In it, Gates touches on ideas for boosting teacher skills, MOOCs, and the like.

But I thought Gifted Exchange readers might find this part most interesting. Kamenetz posed this question: "You've said that when you were in high school, you followed your own interests, taking on independent study, working on computer programming day and night. Is there room for that kind of student-driven learning in a highly rigorous, metrics-based environment?"

Gates answered that "People who are as curious as I am will be fine in any system. For the self-motivated student, these are the golden days. I wish I was growing up now. I envy my son. If he and I are talking about something that we don't understand, we just watch videos and click on articles, and that feeds our discussion. Unfortunately, the highly curious student is a small percentage of the kids."

What do you think of this? Will the brilliant and curious do well under any system? Are these the golden days for self-motivated students?

On one hand, there certainly are a lot of resources now, available online for anyone. If you're interested in learning advanced math, nothing is stopping you from watching Khan Academy for hours. My 5-year-old son is really into maps right now, and he's been studying Google maps, sometimes announcing how many miles it is between two random destinations, and exactly how long that will take by car, mass transit, or foot.

But I'm not sure that schooling is in a golden age for the curious. As Gates points out, the campaign to measure what kids are learning is not a bad thing. But some schools, obsessed with pass rates on grade level standardized tests, have decided that kids who easily meet the bar don't deserve any attention. One way to close the achievement gap is to lower the ceiling, rather than raise the floor.

What do you think? Are these the golden days for self-motivated, curious students?


hush said...

Of course, to be a real beneficiary of this so-called "golden age" one must have the basics like a computer with internet access at home - and/or access to a public library that would allow a younger patron to explore both the shelves and online for hours, and of course the downtime to be able to devote large, uninterrupted chunks their time to such exploring. Not every family and community has these resources, obviously; and I'm sure Gates gets that. In fact, based upon his foundation's initiatives I know he does.

Gates said kids like him (rarities) in any system would be "fine" - meaning an individual can and should do work outside their system and that our current systems are merely adequate - I'll note he did not say rare children who are as curious as him would "excel" or "meet their full potential." And I can't help but think of the types of excellent schools Gates himself and his children attend(ed) - yes, anyone coming out of Lakeside will be more than fine. But in schools where gifted kids are bullied and totally unchallenged for years on end? I'm just not as optimistic that their sense of curiosity will survive those slings and arrows just because they can go home and play on Khan Academy.

The question is, are we ok with "fine" when it comes to our own child's unique needs and sensitivities? Not me. I'd prefer more than "fine."

Freya Belle said...

I'm a student growing up now so I can't compare to other times. The internet is very important to me - living in a rural area of Spain it's my connection to the things which interest me and I've learnt more online, I think, than I ever have done in school... Even though I can't compare with other times, as I said before, I think this is most certainly NOT a golden age for education. I have known clever children who've been unmotivated at school and given up on it all - maybe these people weren't as "curious" or “self-motivated" as Bill Gates. All the same, they were intelligent young people the school system didn't stretch and who now believe that they will never "meet their full potential." I'm not sure curiosity alone is enough... I have found that you have to be strong, resilient, self-sufficient... There isn't support in schools (or not nearly enough) and that is a big problem, because you have to be lucky enough to have access to technology and/or supportive, loving parents.

Unknown said...

How can anyone who has promoted national standards, national testing, and computerized drill and practice say that this is a golden age for anyone in education besides the testing companies (for example, Microsoft) and the industries they support?

Anonymous said...

Agree with "unknown". Well said.

I tell my kids about the space race and who smart kids were valued in that time in history and that even if it doesn't seem like it in the US right now, there really is a value for them in the human race.

I can't believe he would think these kids would do "just fine". Has he not heard of the problems these kids can face, and all the ways kids can be derailed by a system that devalues them?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the reason it may seem that curious kids do well in any environment is that there will almost always be some kids who excel, and then we look at them and say "See, they're fine!" The gifted kids who need certain kinds of environments to thrive will simply not show up on the radar.

Anonymous said...

My children do not have any time to explore the topics that they love. They are overloaded with busywork by teachers who believe that teaching gifted children does not mean presenting additional information in class but rather demanding additional homework completion. If only they weren't in the public school system, they could pursue their true interests and passions

Kimberley Spire-Oh said...

I think this is a great time to be a curious person, with all the resources readily available to gain information on just about any subject. However, that does not mean that all curious students have an opportunity to excel in the current test-driven, fit-everyone-into-a-narrow box environment. The tests do not give many opportunities for critical thinking or original ideas. The curious people will end up doing well in life, but I know many who do not fit into the structure and monotony of schools today.

Anonymous said...

True, it is a wonderful age for those who are curious. However, he doesn't seem to recognize that school itself (and required assignments, which may well be covering information previously learned), really cuts down on the time available to fool around following one's questions.