Why we need life-long learning for all

By Lauren Della Bella (@ldellabella)

Just as I was about to go on stage at SXSWedu today, I got a text from an old friend I hadn't spoken with in 10 years. It said, "I was passing by the Sadieville exit on I-75 and I thought of you." Ironically, I had been thinking a lot about Sadieville as I prepared my presentation for SXSWedu. It was where my career began. A small Appalachian community in central Kentucky desperately in need of better housing and a wastewater treatment system. It was my job to ensure that residents living without indoor plumbing, running water and, sometimes electricity, could have warm, safe and dry homes; have a place where they could use a toilet, rather than an outhouse; take a hot shower and cook a decent meal.

The people I met there were often living on welfare or social security payments of about $4000 a year. They were kind and generous (except for the woman that followed me around town with her gun), willing to work and simply looking for a little help. These people were memorable in different ways; one, in particular, changed my life. The day I met J.B., he told me that he had prayed to God all night and all morning that He would send someone to help him; he said that he felt God had sent me and I was his savior. As he cried and dropped to his knees, I cried too. 

It wasn't the first time I cried in Sadieville – or the last. I was 22 years old and devastated to see people in the US living in these conditions. I was also exhilarated when I realized I could do something to change that and make a difference. I was there to improve their lives, but in fact they were truly changing mine. 

I understood then, as I do today, that the cycle of poverty can be passed down through generations. It can be difficult to break that cycle, but the one true means we have is education. Education is the most important thing we do as a society. It is a basic human right. It is a path out of poverty, a path to tolerance and understanding and a means to a better life. I am not naive enough to believe it is a guarantee. In fact, we may survive without a quality education – but we won't thrive. I believe education is essential to human dignity and human flourishing. Which is why we launched the 9 Billion Schools Movement at SXSWedu today.

By 2050 there will be 9 billion people on the planet – all with unique abilities, needs, hopes and dreams. All needing a school unto him or herself. Not literally, of course, but rather a means to be educated for a lifetime. We don't start learning when we start preschool or kindergarten, just as we don't stop when we graduate high school or college. We learn in school, the workplace and in our leisure activities. Moreover, it's often not an option – it's often a requirement. What if everywhere we go whether built, natural or digital was designed for life-long, life-wide, life-deep learning. The possibilities are endless. 

This is what the 9 Billion Schools Movement seeks to explore. We cannot do this alone. Share your thoughts and ideas. Share your dreams and join us in finding a way to create life-long, personalized learning for all.