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Education in Victoria is succeeding in some areas, but failing in many others – we have new school buildings, but they are overflowing and the school rolls climbing so quickly that teachers and principals have no bandwidth left for improving educational outcomes.  Schools are adapting to technology, but failing to handle the wide range of ability and rates of learning our kids have. The system is not flexible enough to handle the needs of low achievers and high achievers in specific areas.

Every couple of months there is a new study showing how badly Australia is doing compared to other countries in areas such as Math.  We know there are approaches that have worked elsewhere but we seem unwilling or unable to change and adopt them.

Homeschooling is an important right for Victorians – in many cases it is the only way to solve problems with bullying, with low achieving students and with high achieving students.  Homeschooling is a rising demographic which serves as an important barometer of how well our schools are serving students and parents.

If the government understands this, then it will understand the value in Homeschooling, and will preserve that  right as a legal option, and keep the current registration regulations intact.   Homeschooling also serves the Dept of Education – it relieves pressure form a strained system, and gives a flexible way of educating students who are not well served by schools.  It is part of the solution, not part of the problem.

It is so important that the Department of Education _listen_ to Homeschoolers, not try to tell them how to educate, or punish them – rather use it as important feedback.  I was surprised to find many ex-teachers among Homeschool parents, and other parents had studied education theories in some depth.  Homeschoolers as a rule are those who value education highly – they are pro-education, not anti-education.

I can say personally, it is heart rending to make the decision to take your child from school, you would only do it if there was a real problem to solve, or a clear benefit in doing so.

My son has just turned 13yo, he is by some accounts gifted – but the reality is simply that he was read to a lot from an early age, and had some opportunities for books and learning and discussion, and excelled because of normal healthy genes and a supportive environment.   He has attended public schools in inner Melbourne for 3 years, the other years being Homeschooled – so I have some basis on which to compare the good and bad of each approach.

Early this year he was accepted into the SEAL program at a very good new school in inner Melbourne.  The SEAL program is great for many kids because they immediately skip a year and jump ahead closer to their current level.  I’m in favor of the SEAL program, its a good thing – but its not the complete answer.  In my sons case he was repeating material he had done a couple years earlier in Math, so the homework was ‘busy work’.

I tried him out on year 10 questions and he worked through them well, so it seemed he was at that level.  I asked the teacher if he could work ahead in Math, then asked the year coordinator and finally the deputy principal – and was surprised that this request was politely ignored in every case.  At first I was angry, but then I realized that they probably just saw my request as “more work” for them, and they are already straining to keep up with massive expansion in student numbers.   The roll is growing at a massive rate, and I think this is why they just don’t have bandwidth to gather a real focus on learning outcomes, let alone catering flexibly to students who fall outside the norm.

As an aside, there are ways to teach and learn math that are vastly better for all students than the approach we have in most Australian schools now.  You don’t have to invent new methods, they are tried and work well overseas – you can read about Jo Boaler, ProofSchool, MathCircles, KhanAcademy, AoPS.com, Australian Math Competition etc. You can read any review of our current math texts by university mathematicians, or look at any comparison study with other countries to know we are doing it badly.   The system needs to be flexible enough to accommodate and experiment with these new methods.  Its not the curricula per-se, it is the way its communicated – it is not visual enough, it is too topic-centric and should be more problem-centric, it is not interactively explored.

Id like to see schools adopt these approaches – but right now they are too busy handling roll growth alone, and in moving from paper books to ipads.

This means the only solution, for now, is to Homeschool your child if they excel in Math – school is a hostile environment towards learning math deeply.

We need to change the way we think about Homeschooling – it is valuable for mainstream education in Australia, it is a place to see how new methods work and take the needed risks in new approaches to learning.  It is a pressure valve for a school system experiencing the stress of rapid growth, and it is the only way to accommodate that small minority of students who will not excel at schools, no matter how good those schools become in future.

To this end I propose that the Victorian Government / Department of Education Victoria consider supporting Homeschooling in the following practical ways :

  • Preserve the current lite-touch Homeschool registration regulations in Victoria [ realise that making regulations tighter will likely result in mass non-registration ]
  • Fund a fulltime Homeschool liaison specialist educator in DETV  [ to support homeschoolers, not police them ! ]
  • Establish an open registry of public school events that Homeschoolers can join in with
  • Fund several masters/phd opt-in studies on Homeschool education approaches and attainments
  • Fund Math and Science specific programs for both schools and homeschoolers, eg: [ alternative curriculum materials, such as AoPS.com books,  Math Circles and Robot workshops ]
  • Establish a yearly tax deduction for extra costs associated with homeschooling your child [ taken from the money that homeschooling saves the government on schooling ]

So I thought about how well Angel Investors and Startups mesh and ‘hook-up’ :

I think the whole space of Angel Investing is ripe for disruption.. I think we’re sitting in a local minimum, when there is a much more optimal way to do this.

From the Investor side : Paul Graham observes that YCombinator backs a group of good founders, knowing its high risk and that one or two in the group will succeed wildly and pay back the others who will grow modestly or fail..and there is no way to know which one that will be.

From the startups point of view : Crowd-funding via IndieGogo and KickStarter are probably a much more accessible way to get that initial funding to develop an MVP, do market validation and launch. The TIME overhead for a startup to find a good angel investor is likely not worth it in many cases.

Most investors want to invest at vastly larger amounts than early stage startups need. Its an impedance mismatch that prevents deal flow for both sides.

So I think we will move in the next one or two years to a crowd-sourced angel investment model that’s something like this :

– social website for startups to present, like Kickstarter
– first 30 investors fund at say $2000 per 1% equity
– standard terms : legal agreement, company setup
– platform takes admin costs of say 5% to 15%
– platform assists discussion for mentoring, progress, milestones, further rounds

AngelList is already doing something like this, but it needs to be even simpler and cheaper in time cost to participate.

As an entrepreneur I see just this huge mismatch between the investors on the Buy side and startups on the Sell side. But this problem is solvable : it has been addressed before in the case of farmers selling corn or hogs and buying barrels of oil. The solution is to make a market with standard terms and open it up so people can trade more efficiently.

Facts back up this assertion – there are so many startup hubs popping up everywhere to fill this gap and impedance match between money and startups … but I think we need to go further and standardize that into an open platform.

This is not just an idea for me.. I have skin in the game. I believe my own startup GridMaths.com has potential to be of great social good in helping students learn Math in a deeper more visual way, and I believe it can do this and make orders of magnitude more money back for investors.

I’d like to think some benevolent Aunt in Utah who has saved her pennies could back a company that helps her niece improve her Math : if she has 5$ to buy the app she can do that, if she has $5000 or $50000 and wants to take a stake in the company to make it great, there should be a way for her to do that too. But at the moment, she cant do that directly.. she would have to wait until everything is set in concrete 10 years down the track, when the innovation is all but over and the company has 500 staff and launches an IPO.

Capitalism needs to evolve, to become fine grained, and with that change our economies will become more stable and less brittle in the process.

This could be a way to disperse the large amounts of cash waiting to invest, and at the same time bring the Angels back to Angel Investing.