'School's good, but not great': 14-year-old health tech innovator says education system needs overhaul

WATCH ABOVE: Fourteen-year-old Ayaan Esmail is working on diagnosing diseases such as cancer through DNA — something he says he didn't learn in school.

The technological age has changed many things in our world, but a Grade 9 student from Mississauga says education isn’t one of those things.

Yes, we use iPads and new software in our schools. However, Ayaan Esmail said he believes we aren’t setting up a system to create future leaders.

Esmail is an anomaly because not many 14-year-olds are co-founders of start-ups hoping to revolutionize the health care industry. His technology company, Genis, is working on diagnosing diseases such as cancer through DNA.


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Recently, Esmail has been researching a cure to cancer, which involves using nanoparticles that insert a smart bacteria directly into cancer cells and eliminate the cells without harming nearby tissue.

The teen has taken his ideas to tech conferences, speaking at Elevate in Toronto and Take Over in Dubai. He recently gave a TEDx talk on creating proactive treatments that can diagnose disease and different types of cancers.

Esmail said he didn’t learn any of this subject matter at school. He said he feels our education system isn’t keeping up with the technological age and isn’t letting tomorrow’s future leaders take risks.


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“The system we are using to change the future of society hasn’t changed and that’s our education system,” Esmail said.

Esmail is part of a human accelerator called The Knowledge Society that takes young, ambitious and driven teens between the ages of 13 and 17 and exposes them to a wide range of exponential technologies to create the next Elon Musks of the world.

Here’s an op-ed Ayaan Esmail wrote about how feels education in our country needs to change:

Education has been very stagnant, if you look at other industries like transportation, healthcare and manufacturing. They’ve all changed but when we look at school today, we still think of a textbook and an exam.

I think we need to fundamentally rethink what learning looks like in today’s world. It’s a world in which I can learn the whole grade 12 physics curriculum on khan academy, without having to be in grade 12. It’s a world filled with knowledge and resources where I can get advice from some of the smartest person in the world, just by watching one 5 minute online video.

It’s not just about advances in technology. Since students are limited to a school environment, they aren’t exposed to how the real world works. I’m not taught how to make money, how taxes and insurance work, how to set up meetings, how to send out emails, how to get speaking opportunities, how real estate works. Rather I get exposed to a bunch of subjects but don’t understand the application for any of it. When was the last time your English teacher told you the reason why you we were reading Shakespeare, or learning about Greek mythology? Students should learn about the way the world works but also why what they are learning will help them in the long term.

We can’t expect students to lead tomorrow if they don’t even have experience in the field. Ideally, they should have more involvement with students and people in their ideal position. Instead of only having one or two field trips, we should have more opportunities to attend conferences and job shadow people.

We just aren’t setting up a system to create the leaders of the future. We’re constantly told to stay inside our comfort zone and never go outside what the rubric says. Stay inside the lines and you get a good mark. Try something completely different and new, and you get a bad mark. If we are not letting students take risks and think big from such a young age then we will never be able to advance society.

We as a society believe teens won’t be able to be as smart as someone in university and will never gain as much knowledge as a professor, but that is incorrect. Society tells teens to wait till after university to get a job or wait until they are in the workforce to impact billions. But why? Why can’t they start right now? With the amount of knowledge we have on the internet there is nothing stopping a 14 year old like me from speaking at the world’s largest conferences and working in a lab trying to cure cancer.

Why aren’t we taught this at school? The reason is because we are taught to be afraid of failure. Some of the smartest people in the world, people who created life changing applications took risks to get to where they are today: Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, just to name a few. They all failed along the way! The only way they succeed was through learning from their failure, yet at school were downgraded for failing on an exam or test. We’re told that because you got a better mark than me, you will succeed and I won’t. Which not only discourages taking risks and failure but also creates a competitive society. When in the real world, people work together to produce a product, solve a company’s problem, and solve the world’s biggest problems.

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