Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is the sixth richest man in the world, with an estimated fortune of $45 billion. He and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, plan on using the vast majority of that fortune for philanthropic aims through their newly formed Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Most notably, they are attempting to overhaul the American education system with an approach called “whole-child personalized learning.” The power couple plans to use their particular specialties to move the initiative’s agenda ahead. That means that they will support the development of software to help teachers while also focusing on a holistic approach to serving each child.
Of course, Zuckerberg is the technology specialist, and Chan specializes in how developmental problems can derail a child’s educational advancement.
Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education James Shelton will head the project to determine how best to combine these two approaches. Shelton told Education Week, “We’ve got to dispel this notion that personalized learning is just about technology. In fact, it is about understanding students, giving them agency, and letting them do work that is engaging and exciting.”
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative outlines their approach on the organization’s web site.
The mission statement says, “No child can reach his or her full potential without an education to match—an education that lifts up their passions and accommodates their needs. We believe all young people should have such experiences and that personalized learning is one of the most promising approaches to reach this goal.” Their goals are ambitious as they look to change the way teachers and students interact for years to come. But there’s reason to be hopeful about the initiative’s potential for success. Chan and Zuckerberg fund their organization with around 99 percent of their Facebook shares, which are worth well over $40 billion.
With that money, they hope to tackle social, emotional, and physical development issues for students.
The initiative recognizes that many factors affect a child’s education. Free lunch programs help combat one of those issues, but there are countless more problems that can derail a child’s development. In addition to developing software and mitigating problems that occur outside of the classroom, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative plans to lobby politicians, support candidates for office, and invest in for-profit businesses that can help their cause. The philanthropic couple knows how formidable of a challenge they’re taking on, but they’re ready to tackle it from all angles.
Shelton also realizes that they face a long road ahead.
He says that Chan Zuckerberg is “one of the best-resourced startups in the world, but still a startup.” Nothing conveys that more than the fact that there are 20 employees on the organization’s education team. Despite the long odds against them, Chan and Zuckerberg are forging ahead. They created the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in December 2015 after they had their daughter, Maxima. Now that they are expecting a second child, they are moving ahead with vigor. As they develop their own strategies for education, they have also given grants to various educational groups such as Vision to Learn, Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, and SAGA Innovations. Nothing conveys the organization’s ambitious goals as well as this illustrative section of their mission statement: “We focus on developing breakthrough products and practices that address the needs of each student, bringing together the best teachers, researchers, advocates and engineers to tackle pressing problems and growing a movement to support the development and broad adoption of powerful personalized learning solutions.” Chan, Zuckerberg, and Shelton aren’t the first big names to take on the deficiencies in American education. Still, we can’t help but feel good about these smart and powerful people using their fortunes for such a worthy aim.