WATCH: The most powerful yet overlooked resource in schools

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More than 550,000 people have already viewed the TED Talk delivered by our CEO Heejae Lim, entitled “The most powerful yet overlooked resource in schools,” on how with the right tools and support, schools can remove language barriers, foster meaningful connections, and help every student thrive.  


Watch the video or read the speech below: 


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Transcript from the speech:

The most powerful yet overlooked resource in schools

I’m eight years old, and it’s my first day at the new school, but I cannot express myself. Actually, I don’t understand a single word of English. My family just moved from Korea to England. My mom is raising my little sister and me, and she’s also finishing her degree. She’s nearly as lost as I am, but with the little English she knows, she speaks to my teachers in broken English, every day, about how she can help me at home. Compared to many other parents in the school who speak no English at all or are even scared to ask the questions, she’s much better-off. And for that, I’m much better-off.


Fast-forward three months. Every time my mom picks me up, a swarm of Korean parents crowd around the car. It causes a traffic jam, like, every day. Seriously?


All the other Korean parents gather around the car, asking my mom the same questions that she asked my teachers. “What is a parent-teacher conference again?” “My kid is behind. What can I do?” I don’t know how I’d have survived that first year without my mom. But I do know that my experience is not that unique.


Every year, 50 million children go through the US school system. And out of that, 40 million, that is, four out of five children, come from underserved or immigrant families. We’re talking about the vast majority of the system here. I realize that I’m one of the lucky ones, because the law of averages will tell you that these children are likely to fall behind by two whole school years. This costs the US economy almost one trillion dollars every year.


But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, research says that for a student to do well, a family’s engagement is more important than that family’s wealth.


A parent is a child’s first teacher, and children spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside the classroom. So no wonder families are the game changer. So here’s a trillion-dollar question: How can we better tap into the incredible potential of families and their universal love for their children?


This is why the organization I founded helps teachers, families and schools connect using something that we all have: a mobile phone. Teachers write the communication in English, and parents receive it in their own languages, and vice versa. We break down the language barrier, bridge cultural and knowledge differences by explaining education concepts and enable and prompt parents and teachers to talk to each other. We’re playing the role that my mom played for the school and my friends’ families: the communicator, the translator, the coach, the explainer and the go-between. And since my mom cannot be everywhere — and, in fact, no parent can, and that is not for the lack of trying — we’ve stepped in and connected four million families, and students and educators in 70,000 schools to date.


When families and schools work together, everyone wins. Students are supported, families are empowered, and teachers’ jobs just become that much easier. The school environment and community thrives with people from all backgrounds. Even the system itself benefits. Last year, the US spent nearly 700 billion dollars on school-aged education. So imagine if you can increase the return on that investment, even just a little bit, by connecting schools to engage with all families.


And we should. It’s literally a no-brainer. But actually, there’s something much bigger here than student grades. Education goes beyond economic growth, and our goal goes beyond the classroom. Schools are a funnel to the real world. Public education makes citizens. And in creating the next generation of citizens, we cannot be leaving behind four out of five children or their families. If we continue to pick and choose who the system engages with generation after generation, like we do now, we will not be left with a community, a civil society or even a functioning democracy. Our collective well-being starts with inclusive schools and helping every child realize their endless potential.


So our hope is that one day, all underserved and immigrant children and their families will feel that they belong in the education system. Our dream is that one day, they’ll feel included in the very communities that they’re expected to build.


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