Natalie Ebel on the Future of Education

Natalie Ebel envisions a future where all children will have equal access to basic education. She’s the Director of Marketing at Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit providing quality education in developing countries. Natalie believes that educating women will have a significant impact on the world’s economy, increasing the annual per capita GDP by 25%. For her, accessible education is key to a successful future – it is both a tool of empowerment and way of breaking down the gender divide and providing equal opportunities to men and women, boys and girls.

What is your vision for the future of education? What kinds of changes need to take place in order to achieve this vision?

My vision for the future of education aligns with Pencils of Promise’s (PoP) mission: that all children, no matter where they are born or what resources they have, receive access to a quality education. We do have a long way to go, as more than 57 million children are out of school and nearly 250 million children lack basic reading and writing skills. That said, education is more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. It’s one of the most important investments a country can make in its people. If all students in the developing world left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty. It truly takes a collaborative effort from a lot of people and organizations working on the shared goals of education for all in order to achieve this vision of education for all.

What kinds of future technologies will offer the same kind of “wave of possibility” as the pencil?

It seems simple, but technologies like e-readers and tablets offer an incredible “wave of possibility” to the students, teachers, and communities PoP works with. These aren’t “futuristic” per say, but they are very new and innovative for the extremely poor, rural communities we work in. In a rural Ghanaian classroom where students have few (if any) books, receiving an e-reader device instantly puts 100+ books in the hands of a child. This has the potential to drastically improve literacy skills – for example, in PoP schools with our Teacher Support program and e-readers, we saw that 18.7% more students than control schools are considered literary proficient. From that perspective, an e-reader represents a “wave of possibility” because it’s connected with reading and writing, which are skills that have the power to transform lives.

What will disrupt the world of nonprofit in the next 20 years?

Virtual reality is already disrupting the nonprofit world, but I believe in the next 20 years it will continue to do so and have an even greater impact. As one of the first nonprofits to adopt this technology, it became clear that VR is a catalyst for social impact storytelling. At PoP, we use the tools that are available to us to tell the most compelling story we can – we’ve been pioneers in social media, but are moving to expand our impact through VR. It’s a more personal and immersive method of communicating with our supporters than any other medium we’ve ever used. Before VR, we would just share our videos and photos with our audience; now, because of our VR film, PoP supporters become a part of our story, they feel the story – they aren’t just spectators anymore, and that’s a really disruptive concept. There’s no substitute for seeing our work firsthand in order to feel connected to it, and VR allows just that.

How will our notions of empathy, compassion, and charity evolve by 2040? What role will technology play in this space?

In today’s world, everything happens at lightning speed; through the internet, social media, etc. it seems like we are all connected and tuned in to what’s going on around us, yet, at the same time, there is just so much information out there and so much going on. It’s sometimes hard to feel empathetic and compassionate about the different work that nonprofits are doing around the world given that we’re inundated daily with an overload of this information. That said, technology is perhaps the most critical factor in maintaining a true feeling of compassion and really wanting to make a difference, as it can establish an even greater connection between a person and a cause. Take virtual reality, for example, which really touches a more emotional place in the mind and soul. VR and technologies like it can have an incredibly deep impact that not only compels people to feel, but also to act. At the moment, VR is the only medium where you can fully immerse yourself in another world and be completely present there without actually being there (without having other distractions), which forces us to become connected, more human, and more empathetic.

How will the intersection of women and education impact businesses in the upcoming years?

Educating women breaks down the gender gap, which leads to a better, more equal society. Girls who go to school are less likely to marry early or against their will. Education empowers women to make life choices and strengthens girls’ beliefs in their ability to achieve goals. In the countries that PoP works in, educated women often marry later and lead healthier, happier lives. Educating women translates into better opportunities for countries to develop; it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come. Relating to businesses, when average education attainment by a country’s population increases by one year, it increases annual per capita GDP growth by 25% – stats like these show how educating women can have a major impact on businesses and a country’s economy.

the author

Erika Streisfield

Erika Streisfield is an editorial intern at Idea Couture.