The second annual SXSWedu in Austin, Texas this week brought an enthusiasm to productive discourse around the challenges in education and the tools that hold the potential to improve it. Keynoters Marjorie Scardino, CEO of Pearson, and Secretary Arne Duncan spoke about the importance of informal learning, assessment, global competitiveness, and preparation for the next generation of learning.

Marjorie Scardino

Scardino spoke about the ways that six-year-olds today are quick, clever, and well-adapted to technology in ways that are not served in our current education system. While many may argue that our current system is falling short of students’ demand, she asks the pertinent question: Will our classrooms be equipped to serve the students of tomorrow?

In his speech Thursday, Secretary Duncan outlined our nation’s goals as increasing assessment to drive personalized and adaptive learning, equipping classrooms with the tools to encourage student engagement and attainment, and better supporting teachers as “nation builders” in a globally competitive world.

“Education needs to be a priority,” said Scardino. “We know that.”

She argued that in today’s economy and marketplace, average is no longer an option. We need to encourage creativity, imagination, and innovation to set a high bar for excellence in education. Identifying SXSWedu as a beacon for these ideas, she invited the education community to bring its discourse and innovation to the classroom to reinvent education for today’s six-year-olds.

Secretary Duncan said that the technologies found at SXSWedu hold the potential to transform education, making teaching and learning more efficient and effective to each individual’s needs. Every other industry is highly infused with technology, he said. In entertainment and business, technology is improving and facilitating the way we create. Now, in many ways we’re unable to create the output of ideas and art without technology. Yet, a song and movie cannot be created without the artist or the facilitator behind the technology. Technology needs to play a similar role in education, said Secretary Duncan.

Technology is a piece of the answer in making teachers more effective, he said. Teachers are the only ones who can truly make the shift work.

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