When Steven Wolfe Pereira talks about his ed tech company, Encantos, it’s easy for his enthusiasm rub off on you. His genuine zest for reimagining literacy, learning and life skills through “storyteaching,” both online and off, is catching.
Fast Company recently named the creator platform company he co-founded in 2016 as one of the “Most Innovative Companies in the World.” When he thinks What the Future, Wolfe Pereira believes K-12 education will be more direct, digital and personalized.
Kate MacArthur: At the beginning of the pandemic, you wrote that 2020 would be “The Lost School Year.” How did reality compare to what you predicted?
Steven Wolfe Pereira: It really is a tale of two cities. The families that had means took their kids out of school. They hired private teachers, private tutors, personalized digital schooling, advanced classes, coding classes, and these families and their kids have thrived during the pandemic.
On the flip side, you have the majority of families that don’t have those means that were probably the essential workers on the front lines. They were relying on school for food. They’re relying on school for childcare. For those families, it’s not going to be just a lost school year, it’s going to be a lost school decade. There’s a lot that has been exposed throughout the pandemic and one of them is not just income inequality, but education inequality.
MacArthur: What’s top of mind for you for preparing young people to one day be in the workforce?
Wolfe Pereira: This is the era of artificial intelligence, and anything that can be automated will be. Machines will certainly be better at memorizing things and spitting back formulas and facts. We’ve been trained on rote memorization and standardized testing. That whole “20th century” approach is not going to be sufficient, especially for the skills that kids are going to need to thrive in the 21st century.
MacArthur: Like what?
Wolfe Pereira: Kids are not taught anything relevant about financial literacy. Think about media and information literacy. And how do you actually teach kids social-emotional skills, things around adaptability, resiliency, flexibility, leadership, entrepreneurship, mindfulness, empathy? When you have a society growing up glued to screens, it’s very hard for kids to learn these skills.
MacArthur: The pandemic accelerated digital trends. How will that impact the digital divide?
Wolfe Pereira: There are millions of households that don’t have broadband access in the U.S., especially in the Black and brown communities that may not have the income or the digital literacy. It becomes a major stumbling block. But it’s not just about access to Wi-Fi or a device. Is there even a room that could be dedicated for the child’s ability to focus? And it’s the emotional effects of kids not being able to engage with other students.
MacArthur: What do think is going to stick going forward?
Wolfe Pereira: You’re going to see a revolution in home schooling, but not the old definition of home schooling. It’s more about enrichment and extending the learning from the classroom into the living room. A lot of new offerings have cropped up in the past 12 months, going direct to consumers, giving parents more choice, more resources to do supplemental learning at home.
MacArthur: School systems still dictate how kids will matriculate to the next level. How will that work?
Wolfe Pereira: There’s going to be a lot of debate about that because you’re seeing a lot of people questioning, “OK, what exactly is being taught in my school?” Part of it has to do with politicization of school boards.
Just look at critical race theory and how that’s become a lightning rod in certain places. On the flip side, when you have more than 50% of our kids in America being diverse, you’re seeing a demand for representation.
There’s a whole gap in education when it comes to Black history. And that’s not even going anywhere near the absence of Latino history, right? That’s where technology and entrepreneurship are cropping up to fill those gaps.
MacArthur: How do you make sure that the students who need these things the most get them?
Wolfe Pereira: We offer our creator platform free for teachers.
MacArthur: How will you make money with this business model while keeping the playing field level?
Wolfe Pereira: We have consumers subscribing the same way that you subscribe to Netflix. Think of Encantos as “Roblox meets Masterclass for Kids.” Teachers receive engagement-based payouts for their “storyworlds” on the Encantos platform, which can become a source of supplemental income. We don’t take any advertising. We also believe that teaching isn’t limited to teachers. We’ll have lots of fans for popular creators on our platform similar to the cult following around certain instructors on Peloton.
MacArthur: Are direct-to-consumer models going to revolutionize education?
Wolfe Pereira: Think about retail. Amazon now has all that first-party data they’re using to personalize the experience. They can only do that if they have that first-party data relationship with you. So now every retailer is trying to figure out how to do that. Now it’s every industry, and education is no different. In general, we have such incredibly personalized advertising and e-commerce. But where you need personalization the most—education, because we all learn differently—why on Earth do we not have personalized learning?