Bill Gates might be the most successful college dropout of all time. He only went to
Harvard for two years before he left to found Microsoft. In 2007, over 30 years after he
dropped out, Harvard granted him an honorary doctorate, not that he needed it since he
did just fine without even a BS or BA!
But, speaking to a packed auditorium of educators and technologists at the SXSWedu
education technology conference in Austin, Bill Gates said that given the impact of
education on all other parts of society, investment in the sector is “absolutely not”
“If you had to say what is the sector of the economy you’d like the most R&D, the most
risk-taking in, because any improvement you make benefits all the other areas of the
economy and, more from an equity point of view, allows the country to deliver on its
promise of equal opportunity, you’d think that education would be a very high R&D
sector. It never has been. We’re going to have to grow this.”
Advancements in computing, the growing penetration of technology (particularly mobile
devices) and the rise of cloud storage have helped make this a “special time for
technology in education,” Gates said.
But he also acknowledged that in the late 1990s and other periods, the industry similarly
thought that technology could make a dent in improving education and the promised
revolutionary advancements never happened.
“Obviously, it begs the question: is it like that time when we were kind of naïve? We can
think through that those things weren’t very deep and now it’s pretty obvious that they
weren’t going to do that much,” he said. “But there was this belief and so we have to
check ourselves and say ‘is it really different this time?’ I think we have data from the
early things that really show that it is. It’s just fundamentally very different technology.”
Gates also made the important point that while technology is pushing its way into the
hands of more students, the uneven access of Internet access needs to be addressed.
“People talk about the hardware but, in fact, if we take any reasonable time period, even
two years, you’re going to spend more on your Internet connection than you do on that
hardware,” he said. “So making sure so that’s either pervasive in the home or public
spaces that students have easy access to that becomes pretty important, particularly, if
you’re going to expect a lot of ongoing activity outside the classroom.”