Economic Development, Government, and Higher Education

Google executive maps out the future of education

Governor’s summit binds education and economy on state’s path to prosperity.

March 18, 2016
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Governor's Economic and Education Summit
Gov. Rick Snyder, left, and Google’s chief education evangelist, Jaime Casap, spoke about the importance of education to a crowd of more than 700 people. Photo by Mike Nichols

Every time Jaime Casap hears someone ask his 14-year-old son what he wants to be when he grows up, he cringes.

From the perspective of Casap, Google’s chief education evangelist, that’s the completely wrong way to approach education in the 21st century.

“It’s already a well-established fact that the jobs of the future don’t exist right now. I’m working in a job that didn’t exist when I graduated college, let alone high school,” he said.

“I want to stop asking kids ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and start asking them, ‘What problem do you want to solve?’”

Casap served as keynote speaker at last week’s Governor’s Economic and Education Summit 2016 at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids.

Casap, who’s been with Google for more than a decade and helped launch the company’s university and K-12 education spaces, works across various education teams at Google.

“When we think about why we care so much about education, why we have so much passion about education, we understand that education is the most important thing we can provide a citizen,” he said.

“Education is what disrupts poverty. Education can change a family’s destiny in just one generation.”

Casap knows from experience what that looks and feels like. A first-generation American born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, he recognized early that a good education was a path out of his impoverished community.

Years later, while delivering what seemed to him an almost surreal presentation on education from the East Wing of the White House, Casap realized, as he spoke into “one of the most powerful microphones in the world,” it was his education that had raised a street kid out of Hell’s Kitchen and brought him to the ethos of the American Dream.

He said the impact of education continues for generations, and people who have an education will impact students they never meet. His children have no idea how much they owe to their father’s fourth-grade teacher, for example.

“Their perspective — how they see the world — is fundamentally different than it was for me,” he said.

Part of what made the U.S. a superpower was its education system, Casap said. But the system is in need of a serious update, as education must match the economics of today, he said.

“The graduation rate of the U.S. in 1910 was 8 percent. I think (now) we’re pushing 81 percent on the national level. … It’s not that education’s broken. I think what we’re feeling is that the education systems we created in the last 150 years aren’t relevant anymore to the economy that we’re facing,” he said.

“It’s our job as educators and as those who support educators to do what our forefathers did with education 150 years ago and ask ourselves, ‘What’s the right model of education that we need for the economy that we’re facing?’”

The future of America’s jobs will be computer-science based, Casap said. About 70 percent of the jobs in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — are in computer science fields, but “we only have 8 percent of graduates to fill those jobs.”

Casap’s presentation showed that, in Michigan last year, there were 16,437 open computer science jobs but only 1,612 computer science graduates and only 936 high school students who took the AP Computer Science exam.

Businesses and educators must find ways to take advantage of a world that has endless information at its fingertips, he said.

“How many of you have not used technology today?” Casap asked the crowd. Not one hand went up.

“Our expectations of technology have changed. It’s wrapped itself around the core of our lives. And if that’s true for us … what does it mean for a generation of kids that doesn’t know that the world existed before Google, before laptops and smartphones, before Wi-Fi? Tell a 10-year-old they’re going to go somewhere where they don’t have Wi-Fi. See what happens,” he said.

“I’m not saying this generation is different than we are, or that they’re wired different. And I would be cautious of anyone who got up here and said, ‘This generation is different; they’re born digital natives …’ They do three things at the same time poorly just like we do three things at the same time poorly. But how they think about learning is different. And that’s what we have to keep in mind.

“I’m not saying it’s better or worse. It’s different … and we have to adjust to our users because that’s the world we live in.”

Casap stressed that today’s education system needs digital leaders. In a world where information is more accessible than ever before, competency-based education is the key to converting information into intelligence. This will come from a culture shift that focuses on iteration and innovation, which will drive transformation, he said.

“If they’re not learning this in school, where are they going to learn this?” he asked.

Casap said education leaders often ask him what the future of education looks like.

“The answer is, there is no future classroom,” he said. “There is no future data center. There’s just doing what we did before. It’s just an ongoing thing.”

“Here’s the good news: We are just getting started. If you’re involved in education, this is the most exciting time in the last 150 years.”

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