In chalets scattered across the snow in California’s ski country, a school of the future is taking shape. Warm inside a classroom, teenage twins Laurel and Bryce Dettering are part of a Silicon Valley experiment to teach students to outperform machines.
Surrounded by industrial tools, Bryce is laying out green 3D-printed propellers, which will form part of a floating pontoon. The 15-year-old is struggling to finish a term-long challenge to craft a vehicle that could test water quality remotely. So far, the task has involved coding, manufacturing and a visit to a Nasa contractor who builds under-ice rovers. “I suck at waterproofing. I managed to waterproof one side, did a test of it, it proved waterproof. I made sure the other side was waterproof, put both sides on and both of them leaked!” he laughs.
Laurel, already adept in robotics, chose a different kind of project, aimed at developing the empathy that robots lack: living on a reservation with three elderly women from the Navajo tribe. “The experience was just, honestly, it was really . . .” she trails out, her navy nails fiddling with her dark-blonde hair. “They didn’t have running water, didn’t have electricity, they had 54 sheep and their only source of income was weaving rugs from wool.”
The Detterings have embraced personalised education, a new movement that wants to tear up the traditional classroom to allow students to learn at their own pace and follow their passions with the help of technology. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, and his wife Priscilla are leading the push to create an education as individual as each child, aiming to expand the experiments beyond the rarefied confines of Silicon Valley.
An FTWeekend magazine front cover on Silicon Valley's obsession with personalised education. Philanthropists including Mark Zuckerberg believe technology can help students move at their own pace and pursue their own purpose. Read more here.