Here’s an important question rooted in an IDEA: How do we as educators and entrepreneurs promote greater Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in our work?
At the EdSurge SF Edtech Meetup on June 16, 70 attendees skipped the sixth game of the NBA Finals to gather at Dev Bootcamp in downtown SF, where they joined Stacey Wang, Sherif Abushadi, Eric Cuentos, Michelle Ching and Luis Avila in a conversation about how to promote equity in education systems.
Stacey Wang opened the night talking about her challenges as the Director of Personalized Learning at Oakland Unified School District. In a recent Stanford study, the district was pointed as one of the 20 largest white-black achievement gaps of the U.S. In Oakland Unified School District, Wang said, 50 percent of the kids speak a different language at home, and 71 percent receive free and reduced-price lunch.
According to Wang, the first step was to provide devices and broadband internet to schools. Now, the next step is to use technology to meet the different needs of each student. "Our kids are all different. They need us [the district] to ensure that, when we build technology, we build it in a way so they have access to equitable learning," she states.
Michelle Ching, a former teacher and now founder and CEO of Literator. Assuming the perspective of the teacher who started her own company, she deconstructed several misconceptions around the relationship between teachers and entrepreneurs. "Teaching is not a 9-5 job. Teachers are not stubborn and resistant to change. Entrepreneurs, your product will help some students," she says.
Ching gave some tips on how to overcome these tensions and better serve the students that need the most. "You have to be thoughtful about where can your tool make an impact. Unless we are being conscientious in how do we serve these students in the way we build products, [and] in the way we partner with teachers, we won't be able to move forward the right way."
Parents play a powerful role in the equity discussion, too, argues Eric Cuentos, the director at Mission Graduates. Throughout his work to promote better communication between Latino families and their kids, he has learned the importance of teaching parents how to use technology so that they can also be part of their kids instruction.
"About 40% of the families we work with don't have access to computers at home, but 100% of them have access to smartphones," Cuentos says. Because students are more used to technology than their parents, there is a generational divide in latino families. "There is an issue with confidence. Parents don't mess up with the computer and don't get involved [with their kids' digital education]," he completes.
Sherif Abushadi, teacher at Dev Bootcamp, explored the topic of diversity through the experience of “confusion.” "Diversity is essential. But what kind of diversity are we talking about? I'd like to suggest that there is cultural diversity, diversity of mental models and diversity in confusion," he said.
During our childhood, he argues, confusion is a bliss, the excitement of new discoveries. Then, at school, being confused starts to be assessed and feel wrong. It becomes synonymous with shame and isolation. But it does not have to be like that. "Maybe one day you find a group of people and in this community learning and confusion become a shared experience," he adds. Then, from isolation, confusion is turned into empathy, shared wisdom and, once again, bliss.
"I'm genuinely excited when I get confused and I do my best to remind my students to shift their relationship with confusion. Confusion is learning. It is the last milestone before you learn something new," Abushadi concludes.
Speaking of confusion, Luis Avila, senior vice president at 270 Strategies, started his Ignite Talk with “Quien aquí habla español?” and for the next two minutes explained his work without using a word in English. “This is what families feel when they enter a room and they hear a language that they don't understand.” When serving immigrant communities, he argues, their voices and needs must be represented. One example he gives are builders of communication apps, who do not recognize that latino populations are users of Whatsapp—the app become popular in among immigrant families because it's a simple and free way of keeping in touch with relatives who live abroad. "We are trying to move them for other services, instead of meeting them where they are."
All ignite talks are also available on EdSurge Facebook page. If you are also fighting inequality in your school system, share your IDEA with us. It's time to talk about inclusion, diversity, equity, and access.