Byline: Bill Gates
During my first year working full time in philanthropy, I met a variety of brilliant people, including AIDS researchers, agronomists developing drought-tolerant crops, and teachers trying to find new ways to inspire students. These people all have different jobs, but they have at least one ambition in common: a desire to innovate. As the world struggles back from the recession of 2009, it's hard to be hopeful about the future. But because of our constant search for progress, I am very optimistic. It's our ingenuity that makes the difference between a bleak future and a bright one.
If we project what the world will be like 10 years from now without additional breakthroughs in health, energy, and food, the picture is quite dark. People in poor countries will continue to die from preventable diseases, energy costs will escalate, and the world's population will overwhelm the land available for farming. But innovations will allow us to avoid these bleak outcomes, improving lives in the U.S. and around the world. With better access to vaccines and drugs, health in poor countries will continue to improve. With better seeds, training, and access to markets, farmers in poor countries will grow more food. With a clean way to produce cheap electricity, we will reduce emissions and avert the worst effects of climate change.
But unfortunately, society does not generally invest enough in innovation--especially in areas where it would help the poor (who aren't an attractive market) and where there isn't an agreed-upon measure of excellence. In the U.S., that means we have not invested nearly what we should in innovation for education. Our education system has been fundamental to our success as a nation, but the way we prepare students has barely changed in 100 years. If we don't find ways to improve our schools, making them more effective and more accessible, we won't fulfill our commitment to equal opportunity, and we will become less competitive with other countries.
It's amazing how much a teacher in the top quartile can help a struggling student. But when it comes to feedback, many teachers …