A full transcript of the episode appears below; it has been edited for clarity.
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Matthew Mugo Fields: Welcome to Shaping the Future, a production of HMH. I'm your host, Matthew Mugo Fields. Here, we'll examine leading issues in education, and I'll be joined by experts, innovators, and leaders to discuss how we prepare our students for an unpredictable future.
On this episode, I speak with Amit Patel, managing director at the largest EdTech venture capital firm in the world, Owl Ventures. This means he is one of the people who provide essential financing for many of the most popular education apps and companies.
As most educators know, EdTech has become even more important in the past year, so we thought it would be cool to talk with one of the people responsible for bringing new technologies into the classroom.
After studying mathematical economic analysis at Rice University and theater and film in New York, Amit in earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business and an M.A. in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. After a brief stint as an actor, Amit got his start running a couple of tutoring businesses and eventually was in a leadership position at a charter school network.
In his current role, he sits on the board of several EdTech companies, including Amira Learning, Codecademy, Panorama Education, Thinkful, and many others. In our discussion, we get into why education is a good investment category, what Amit looks for in an elevator pitch, and the reason why no amount of EdTech or artificial intelligence (AI) will ever be able to replace a teacher. Now, here's Amit Patel.
Amit, welcome to Shaping the Future podcast. It's so, so great to have you.
Amit Patel: Thank you for having me, Matthew. Really appreciate you inviting me to join you today.
Matthew: Awesome. So, the way this typically works
is we like to ask our guests to start by telling us a bit about their
educational journeys, particularly highlighting any educators who were
influential in your life. So, give us a sense of your educational
Amit: So I had, I would say, a mix of educational
experiences. And what I mean by that is, I was born in Texas, had the
chance to attend a school in the United States up through about middle
school. And then, for eighth grade, I actually got to study
internationally because my family was moving abroad for work. And so, for eighth grade, I specifically was in Italy, and then ninth and tenth grade, I had the chance to attend school in the Middle East. So, I went
to the first years of high school in Kuwait.
Amit: Yeah. And then, the final two years of high
school, I had the opportunity to come back to the U.S. and actually study
at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science on the University of
North Texas' campus.
Matthew: Wow. So when you were international, were
those American or American-like schools that you were in, or were they
truly of the country you were in?
Amit: No, they were both American schools. So, in
Italy it was the American School of Milan that I attended for the eighth
grade. And then in Kuwait, it was the American School of Kuwait that I
attended for ninth and tenth grade.
Matthew: I can imagine that those experiences
probably shaped a lot of your view of the approach to education and the
work and career and all that. Is that a safe assumption?
Amit: One hundred percent. I mean, in Italy, for
example, we had a course called Humanities where it was bringing
together ELA as well as history and weaving both of those subjects into
one, so that you could go back and forth between topics over the course
of about two hours or so. But the teacher that I had at the time,
Mr. Barassi, I just think went absolutely above and beyond in
terms of really bringing to life what it was that we were studying. And
so, what I mean by that is, we were studying the Odyssey and learning
about what it took to build an empire, forge an empire, and everything
like that. And while we were reading that, he did two things that were
really interesting and memorable for me. One is that the entire eighth
grade played a game of Risk, and I don't know if you're familiar with
that board game or had the chance to play that board game.
And he basically said, "You can form teams as small or as large as
you would like. You can make deals at any time during the school day or
after the school day." And the only rule was that moves were made one
time per day. And so, it really gave us a flavor of what it was like to
form alliances and what it was like to do negotiations and things like
that, which was really memorable and got a lot of folks a lot more
interested in the Odyssey itself. And then the second thing that he did,
which was particularly memorable, is—I don't know if you recall when
Agamemnon came back from the war, Clytemnestra, his wife, sewed an
outfit for him where she sewed the head shut. And then, he ended up
getting murdered while he was putting on that outfit.
And he actually put together a court trial where various people from
the eighth grade were playing different roles in the trial. Some were
the lawyers, some were the witnesses, and et cetera. And then, he
actually got the seventh grade to serve as the jury for that court
trial, where it was Clytemnestra on trial for the potential murder
of her husband. As I just think about how much he invested in bringing
that story to life for us, where I'm now able to recall those types of
details several decades later. I think that's an experience that really
just stuck with me.