Are Students The Best People To Solve The Problems In Education?
There have been countless initiatives to “solve” the problems with education. From government policies to digital platforms, education trials have included experiments with curriculums, apps, teacher-student interactions and more.

Yet students are most familiar with the pain points of education. Does that make them the most qualified to help update the education system to meet today’s needs?

Let’s take a look at the ways students may or may not be able to change education.

Successful founders create business solutions by solving personal problems.

Education startups, like all businesses, seek to have a creative solution to an unresolved problem. However, the most powerful success stories often occur when a founder’s big idea deals with an issue, problem or topic that’s relevant to their own life. It’s this internal relevance that can often drive big results.

For example, the classic startup success story was when Warby Parker cofounder Dave Gilboa spent a semester without glasses because they were prohibitively expensive. After building a business around a personal problem, the company was valued at $1.2 billion within five years.

In the education sphere, it’s the students who are experiencing the problems and the pain points. While teachers, parents, researchers and others may be able to witness education challenges, students are struggling with the logistics of learning. This personal experience has the potential to provide a unique problem-solving perspective that could, in turn, drive innovative solutions.

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Building solutions is easier than ever.

Previously, a frustrated student may have only grumbled about a problem and how it could be better. Now, they have the tools available to build solutions.

Technology has dramatically changed startup culture, making it possible for anyone to build solutions. With today’s online tools, just about anyone can launch a business. There’s easy access to web hosting, data storage, retail apps and more.

Moreover, when the tech you need for your business doesn't yet exist, there’s always the option to use the same approach as Snapchat’s cofounders: partnering with a computer science major.

In fact, the digital-first culture of today’s young people could be a technological advantage when building solutions for students. With a peer-to-peer approach, students can leverage the platforms and communication formats that are already popular.

For example, while an older entrepreneur may naturally turn to Facebook for the social aspect of a classroom solution, high school students might not be on board with that idea. As one teen said about Facebook: “[It’s] an ‘old person’ social media.”

When have students succeeded in changing education?

I have firsthand experience with how students can change education. When I was in college, four classmates and I launched our edtech company OneClass. In the eight years since, we’ve helped 2.7 million students get better grades. The impact has been undeniable, as more than 90% of users have improved by a letter grade or more.

While building a startup in college wasn’t easy, as I share in greater detail here, we used our own education challenges as the basis for a scalable solution. As international students, it was challenging to keep up with college lectures. To mitigate the language barrier, we started sharing class notes with one another.

We realized the idea of sharing class notes could be helpful to many other students and many other situations. An online note-sharing platform would help students like us, and it could also help students who had different learning styles, missed lectures or were struggling with the class material.

What mistakes should students avoid when trying to solve education?

As with all businesses, the risk of a student-initiated education startup is thinking too narrowly. If you’re inside the problem, you may not necessarily be able to see all the angles or understand the bigger context. That’s why it’s helpful to have an experienced mentor on your team, and when you’re in school, you may not have to look any further than your teachers or professors.

I would also caution students against seeking out shortcuts or quick fixes. One analysis of the reasons edtech startups fail found that “a lack of research” and products “designed for trivial reasons” were contributing factors.

The education sector is ripe for innovation. While schools, teachers, administrators and entrepreneurs will all likely be a part of the solution, it may be the students who have the best insight into how to solve the problem.

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