The Impending Human Capital Revolution

It wasn’t his fault he was born there.

Alas, when he exited his mother’s womb in November 1888, he emerged not in the United States, nor in the United Kingdom, nor even in Germany. Rather, C. V. Raman found himself breathing his first few breaths of life in the Madras Province of India.

Fortunately, he was one of the lucky ones: his father was a college lecturer of physics and mathematics, so Raman had access to quality educational resources from an early age.

He would go on to become one of only ten Indians ever to win a Nobel Prize, a strikingly low number compared to those won by Americans (353), British (125), and Germans (105).

And it’s more than just Nobel Prizes: even today, India lags behind each the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany in Ph.D.’s granted despite having a population over 275% greater than all of them combined.

Out of the billions of Indians who have lived since Raman’s death in 1970, why has there still never been another Indian Nobel Prize winner in physics?

Why is the second most populous nation in the world ranked only 20th for Nobel Prize winners (with the most populous nation, China, ranked even lower)?

And conversely, how is it that the United States of America, a nation only 12% as populous as India and China, consistently generates so many more Nobel Prize winners, Ph.D.’s, and other innovators than both of them combined?

Part of Raman’s work showed that light can give off vibrational energy to surrounding molecules, much as educators know that quality educational resources can give off intellectual energy to surrounding students.

There’s no question that Raman was a particularly talented ‘molecule’ — he simply couldn’t have accomplished what he did without an astonishing degree of raw intellect. However, his intellectual ‘energy’ would have been close to nonexistent if not for the ‘light’ he was exposed to thanks to his father’s role as a lecturer of physics and mathematics.

And that prompts a very important question: is the reason so many places fail to produce a proportional number of world-changing innovators because there aren’t enough molecules — or because there isn’t enough light?

The Anomaly of Raman

There is, of course, an easy explanation: perhaps babies being born in the United States are just smarter than babies being born in India.

The problem with this, however, is that we simply have no reason to believe it to be true. That is, there’s no reason to believe that a baby being born in any given geographical region has any inherent advantage when it comes to raw talent.

In fact, the opposite is far more likely: raw talent is distributed uniformly throughout the world, and world-changing innovators pop up in some areas more often than others because those areas have the resources necessary to cultivate that raw talent into something far greater.

Take, for example, Renaissance Italy. Did babies being born during this period have a higher degree of raw artistic talent than babies being born in other times and locations? Or, is it more likely that Italy always had babies being born with the potential for greatness, and what caused them to rise to their full potential during this particular period was the presence of the resources necessary for them to actually do so?

When we consider history’s most world-changing innovators, a common pattern emerges: these are individuals who, much like Raman, not only had an incredible capacity to achieve greatness, but also an environment conducive to that achievement.

And so, the question we must ask ourselves is this: for every Raman — for every brilliant child bursting with curiosity and enthusiasm and potential — how many of them have access to the resources necessary to cultivate that potential into something greater?

For every Raman, how many other brilliant individuals with world-changing potential have their talents squandered because they never have the opportunity to discover them?

The reason why the United States consistently churns out so many more innovators than India isn’t because people in the United States are born with more raw talent; rather, it’s because the United States has the resources necessary to cultivate that raw talent into something far more extraordinary.

For the entirety of human history, only a tiny percentage of people with the ability to change the world had access to the resources necessary to actually do so.

But, what might the world look like if every individual with the potential to change it… actually did?

That’s where we’re going — and education technology is how we get there.

The Key to Unlocking Human Potential

For most of human history, getting an education was a problem of geography: a classroom, a library, and a workplace were pretty much the only places “getting an education” could take place.

Today, however, billions of people around the world who would never have had access to quality educational resources now have access to computers and cellphones through which they can explore virtually the entirety of human knowledge.

Whereas learning physics used to require access to quality educational materials in the form of textbooks and university classes, learning physics today requires only an inexpensive Android phone with low-bandwidth internet connectivity.

Through platforms like Khan Academy, Expii, and Oppia, a single educational lesson can be broadcast to hundreds of thousands of learners worldwide. Moreover, these lessons can be programmatically personalized to the needs and interests of each individual learner.

Thanks to education technology, a child like Raman will no longer need to be born into exactly the right situation for his potential to be realized.

Thanks to education technology, every learner with access to basic internet will be afforded the opportunity to explore any topic they find interesting — and to discover the true nature of their hidden talents.

Thanks to education technology, the rate at which society cultivates world-changing innovators will increase exponentially.

Thanks to education technology, we are on the verge of a human capital revolution.

How will this revolution take place? With what tools will it be waged? And who will lead the way? For answers to these questions and more, click here to subscribe and join the revolution.

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Jared Silver

Jared Silver

I want to improve access to effective, equitable learning experiences.

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