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Jaime Casap: From Tough Childhood to Google's Global Education Evangelist

Jaime Casap was raised by his Argentinian single mom, who was on welfare, and grew up in a violent neighborhood. Education saved his life.
Photo of Jaime Casap
Photo of Jaime CasapWeinberg-Clark Photography

NAME: Jaime Casap

AGE: 48

HERITAGE: My mother is from Argentina and my father is from Syria

HOMETOWN: Hell’s Kitchen, NY now living in Phoenix, AZ

OCCUPATION/TITLE: Global Education Evangelist at Google, Inc.

At Google, Casap evangelizes the power and potential of the web, technology, and Google tools. During his eight years at Google, Casap has been part of the original team that launched Google Apps for universities, launched Google Apps into K through 12 schools, and helped get Chromebooks off the ground and into schools. Today Casap is responsible for working across all internal teams that impact education, and he works with educational organizations around the world, helping them find ways to improve the quality of education through the use of technology.

You’ve said that being raised by a single mother on welfare gave you a unique understanding and appreciation of the power education has on changing the destiny of a family in just one generation. Tell us more about that experience.

My mom came to America escaping poverty and government oppression in the late 1960s. She was a young, single woman who didn’t plan on me being born so she ended up on welfare and food stamps. A lot of people who lived in my community lived in the same way; it was not the nicest place to grow up. When I entered school it was “Welcome to PS 11” and I said, “Qué?” English was my second language.

"By the time I was in high school I had been to 4 or 5 funerals, I had been shot at and had guns shoved in my mouth and I wanted out. I focused on education."

By the time I was in high school I had been to 4 or 5 funerals, I had been shot at and had guns shoved in my mouth and I wanted out. I focused on education, I saw it as my way out and it did get me out, which is why I’m so interested in the power that education and technology can have on a family.

How do you see technology assisting education and academic attainment?

It isn’t just about bringing tech into education, but transforming what learning looks like and using tech to propel that transformation.

If all we do is take Google apps or Chromebooks into the classroom without changing what the teaching is like in the classroom, the danger is that we only make old methods of teaching faster and more efficient. That’s not bad, per se, but what we really want to do is understand what good learning looks like and how bring that to life with technology.

How many students are getting the opportunity to work with Chromebooks in their schools?

I have been at Google for 10 years and very early in my career Google apps for education were geared more toward getting universities online. In 2008-2009, we saw more potential in K-12.

We started in Oregon and got a lot more schools interested and now there are more than 50 million Chromebooks in schools today. Our latest numbers say that 30,000 new Chromebooks are activated in schools every school day — that’s more than all other devices combined.

In the third quarter of 2015, Chromebooks were the majority— 51 percent — of devices sold in K-12 education in the U.S.

And what does that actually mean for students’ academic achievement?

For one, it unlocks inquiry-based learning or project-based learning because it ensures all the world’s information is at students’ fingertips.

In terms of the future, we talk about future skill sets for future labor force needs. We say this because it makes us comfortable to envision the future being way down the line – but the future is now. We’re 16 years into a new century and when you think about it, the purpose of school is to prepare students for the future - but it is now.

The question used to be 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' Now it should be 'What problem do you want to solve?' - Jaime Casap

It’s estimated that a large portion of job growth will be in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and in computer science, specifically, but you look at a place like Arizona and here we have 10,000 open computer science jobs but only 1,200 people who, in 2015, graduated with a computer science degree.

So the opportunity is around how to bring computer science in to schools. Google has developed afterschool programs to introduce young students to computer science and this is especially important in Latino communities. You think about the future labor force and look at the fact that 1 in 4 kids in states are Latinos – in Florida and California we’re looking at even higher percentages – so that’s where our future labor force is going to come from.

When we consider the impact of technology on education, what, really, should we be thinking about?

We need to get kids interested and excited about computer science, obviously, but I also think it’s about the critical skills that are needed for the future – whether it’s the skills needed by employers or the ones the students will need to build their own companies.

We’re talking about problem solving, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration and building those skills.

A big driver for me is that we need to ask new questions in education. We used to always ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” That question has no relevance anymore. A long, long time ago there were jobs like firefighter, police, astronaut that you could envision becoming but now we live in a world that is creating new jobs in new industries every day.

We need to instead ask students, “What problem do you want to solve?” That allows educators to follow up with, “OK, what do you need to learn in order to solve those problems? What blogs, what readings, what classes can you take, online and offline to really dive into and understand the problem and solve it?” That changes the conversation for students.

Esther J. Cepeda is a Chicago-based journalist and a nationally syndicated columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.

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