A Tale of Two (New) Schools

In the world today, there are two efforts to massively scale new school systems that are based on agile, technology focused learning systems. One has raised $133M and is currently educating about 750 students in six schools in three American cities; the other has raised $3M and is currently educating 7,500 students in 40 publicly (and privately) financed schools in three countries (The Netherlands, Spain and South Africa). You would be challenged to find out much about the latter, mainly because it hasn’t raised much money, which seems to have become the key metric for sexiness and media coverage.

There is nothing wrong with the grand vision of AltSchool, the company that has raised $133M. In fact, it really is a sexy story where the founder got frustrated looking for a school for his kids, so he started a new approach to schools. Fortunately, he had sold a company to Google so he had the money, experience and contacts to raise a huge amount of money and really go after the opportunity to transform education. Here are stories about AltSchool in The New Yorker, Huffington Post, The New York Times, and there are hundreds of others.

But I could only find one story in English about Steve JobsSchool. It was written by The Guardian a year and a half ago. Steve JobsSchool was started three years ago by a lifelong entrepreneur, researcher and personality (in The Netherlands) named Maurice de Hond. Get this: He started the project because he wanted his daughter (now 6) to be educated for the world she would live her life in. In other words, both entrepreneurs had exactly the same motivation for starting their new school systems. (I met Maurice in November, 1984 and have now known him half of my life.)

Watch this video (at least, watch the first 5 minutes, if you don’t have the attention span for the whole 30!) to hear the story of how Maurice de Hond started Steve JobsSchool because he wanted his daughter to be educated for the world as it is. Quote: “I don’t bring my daughter to a museum to educate her for the future!”

What’s really interesting, if you watch this video? Dutch K-12 schools have exactly the same problems as American K-12 schools:

  • Kids are bored and being diagnosed as having ADHD;
  • Schools have been tasked with educating a polyglot population with different economic and cultural backgrounds;
  • Schools haven’t been successful using new technologies to support the teaching process.
  • Parents are too busy or not motivated or welcomed to be involved in the schools and their children’s curriculum.

I could write a treatise on the issues underlying how we educate our kids, but today I just want to wonder: What is the difference between the “Silicon Valley” approach and the Dutch approach to solving this very important problem? What is it about Silicon Valley that means AltSchool can raise so much money and be lauded so uncritically for revolutionizing education by nearly every major American media outlet almost before it even opened its first school, while my friend Maurice has to run around the world and (successfully) sell school systems one by one without the money or the recognition while only getting one skeptical English-language article in a major, respected news outlet?

I don’t have an answer to that question. But I sure wish people would pay attention to both AltSchool AND Steve JobsSchool, since they both seem to be addressing effectively one of the most pressing issues in our (global) society.