Mark Zuckerberg says technology could be a solution for America's broken school system

mark zuckerberg priscilla chan
Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

  • In a letter posted to Facebook, Zuckerberg outlined his "lessons on philanthropy" in 2017.
  • Zuckerberg asserted that technology is part of the solution to improving education in the US. He wants to build tools that empower teachers.
  • Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have sold more than $900 million worth of Facebook shares this year to fund programs that bolster schools.

In a letter posted to Facebook on Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg reflected on what he and wife Priscilla Chan have learned about philanthropy in 2017. One of his biggest takeaways was that improving education will be among the biggest challenges that the next generation faces.

Zuckerberg thinks he has a fix for a broken school system: more technology.

A myriad of international math and science assessments show that children of all ages in the US trail their peers in many developed countries, according to the Pew Research Center. There's no consensus on why American children are behind, though experts speculate it has to do with school funding, insufficient teacher training, and unequal opportunities for students of different socio-economic backgrounds.

"A lot of today's debates pit district schools against charter schools, or reformers against unions. But over the long term, we need to build tools to empower every teacher at every school to provide personalized instruction and mentorship to every student," Zuckerberg wrote.

In the letter, Zuckerberg asserted that the best education is one that is tailored to students' individual needs. He believes personalized learning can scale through technology.

Software allows teachers to customize lessons for students of different ability levels. Children might also practice skills in an app, as they do at AltSchool, a startup that develops educational software and runs a network of small schools with four locations in California and New York.

Tech investors, including Zuckerberg, have poured $175 million into AltSchool since 2013.

"Rather than having every student sit in a classroom and listen to a teacher explain the same material at the same pace in the same way," Zuckerberg wrote, "research shows students will perform better if they can learn at their own pace, based on their own interests, and in a style that fits them."

Technology can help deliver this experience, as well as scale it beyond any one classroom, according to Zuckerberg. At AltSchool, teachers share lesson plans across an online network and cherry-pick tasks for students based on the learning strategies that work best for them.

"One challenge we've seen in education is that there are many brilliant teachers and school leaders who create new kinds of schools based on new models of learning — but those schools usually only serve hundreds of students, while most children still do not have access to them," Zuckerberg wrote.

"Our hope is that technology can help with this scaling challenge," he added.

Chan and Zuckerberg sold more than $900 million worth of Facebook shares in 2017 to fund their foundation, which aims to bolster reform in schools, health care, and criminal justice.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative also funds a free private school in the Silicon Valley city of East Palo Alto, where more than half of students in the local school district experience homelessness. The school provides basic health services as part of the schooling experience.

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