“Please buy one from me. I don’t have enough money to go to school.”
Those are the first sentences a young boy utters in a clip that went viral last year. The boy looks no older than ten in the video. He’s poor, selling trinkets on the streets of Cambodia in order to fund his education. He’s little, sweet, and quite the salesman. Oh, and he speaks 12 languages.
If you’re like me, you can’t help but be amazed watching the video. The little boy jumps from Cantonese to Thai to Japanese to English with an ease and confidence that’s rare to find. But mixed into that awe, you may feel something else: sadness. A sadness brought about by the fact that an obviously brilliant child was born into a life with fewer educational opportunities than most of the audience his viral video reached. How unfair, it seems, that this boy is forced to spend his days selling cheap gifts to tourists in order to learn, when so many kids get to spend their days in a classroom, their only concern being the tricky math question on tonight’s homework.
So much of our lives are a consequence of chance. Where we are born, how much money our family has, what color our skin is, and what opportunities are offered to us. I’ve seen firsthand how circumstance and chance can affect one’s life trajectory. My grandparents were born and raised in the Philippines — only a two hour flight from where the little boy in the video is from. They were both relatively poor, but they managed to find their way into the country’s top university. Hard work was involved, but so was luck. In my grandfather’s case, that luck was in the form of his older siblings giving up their chance at schooling, deciding instead to work and save their money to fund my grandpa’s studies.
A lucky break. It can do a lot. For my grandparents, a lucky break meant the chance to graduate college and medical school; it meant the opportunity to build a new life for their family in the United States. For the little boy in the video, it meant getting his education fully funded by someone who stumbled across his viral video. And for me, it means getting to reap the benefits of the generations before me. But I want to do away with luck. I want to see a world where a lucky break isn’t the qualification required to get a world-class education, a world where any child can have the resources needed to learn and where sacrifice and suffering isn’t needed to gain access.
Education is power. It is the tool we have to understand the world and lift ourselves out of the circumstances life has handed us. Through access to education, social mobility can be achieved, entire communities can be transformed, and the global marketplace can be elevated. When people have access to an education, we all benefit.
This is why I believe educational technology is so important, and why the field is in such an exciting moment in history. EdTech allows us to leverage new technology for good. It provides us a chance to create a more equitable world, one where students across the globe can access the same tools if only they have access to the internet. Through EdTech, we can offer education in greater places at a lower cost. Imagine: a world where what once were walls become minor bumps, be it economic status or location; where students in rural, underfunded high schools have just as many opportunities to learn as those in their posh, upper class counterparts; where siblings don’t need to sacrifice their schooling to fund their youngest brother’s; and where little kids don’t need to sell trinkets on the street in order to go to school.
I think we can do it. I think we have the tools available for us to create such a world. Now, it’s just a matter of doing. So, let’s get to work.