Philanthropy’s Role in Reimagining Education: Our Takeaways from SXSW EDU 2022

Posted on Thursday, March 24th, 2022

Learning and education are at a major inflection point. Over the last few years, change has been rapid, unprecedented, and unpredictable – and students, teachers, and parents have all had to figure out how to share the burden of increasingly complex learning environments together.

It’s never been clearer that effective learning environments are defined by a complex ecosystem of stakeholders from across a range of different fields and areas of practice. Members of our leadership team recently attended SXSW EDU to participate in the growing conversation about how students, teachers, parents, and others can all engage more impactfully with an evolving educational environment. It’s our goal to gather innovative thinking about not only the most meaningful methods of responding to a changing world, but to continue building on new paradigms for developing the learning environments of the future.

To that end, we were proud to support the Stanford d.School’s Future(s) Museum at SXSW EDU, which is part of their Futures Series. The exhibit featured a makerspace for participants to radically imagine K-12 education and showcase collective, multiple, expansive visions for the future. We were thrilled and inspired by the “standing room only” turnout of individuals that offered transformative ideas and created artifacts to imagine new futures and to expand beliefs in what’s possible.

We’ve compiled some of our key insights from that exhibit and the wider conference below, and look forward to finding strategic opportunities to incorporate these findings into our programmatic grantmaking efforts moving forward.

  • Philanthropy has an important role to play in scaling educational innovation. So much of philanthropy-driven innovation happens at a national or international scale – but how can the findings and lessons of these meaningful impacts get brought to bear at the local level? When it comes to continuous learning and education outside of a K-12 context, dispersed technology has a crucial role to play. Expanding the capacity of education providers to get their programming to reach populations that might not otherwise be able to participate in or access full-time study is a major innovation that has only become stronger in the last few years, and can pay dividends for students further down the line – in terms of job security, opportunities for growth, and access to a sustainable family wage.
  • Computational literacy is a basic literacy – and it affects everything. Knowing how to operate a computer is a skill that’s critical to all parts of modern life – from engaging in day-to-day work, to voting and participating in the democratic process. Seen through this lens, computer literacy is not only urgent, but an incredibly necessary literacy for all people. A key part of expanding access to training and resources beyond the traditional channels will involve addressing the systemic issues that prevent certain communities and populations from engaging with computational literacy and exposure in the most impactful ways.
  • The changing shape of education warrants a reexamination of what the learning environments of the future look like. Schools have been organized according to largely the same principles since the industrial revolution. But what does a school that recognizes the many parallel changes and challenges that have accompanied the digital revolution look like? Moving into a future state of learning and education will be a complex and multifaceted process for all students, but it also requires an ambitious re-considering of fundamental factors like equity, inclusion, and the role of the wider community. 

Understanding how these insights will impact our own work and the shape of the field at large will take time to assess meaningfully. Each of these ideas represents only a small portion of the wide range of ideas addressed and discussed at SXSW EDU, and we’re excited to road-test some of the new concepts and strategies alongside our partners.