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Pokémon Go, a game app for smartphone users, has become a worldwide phenomenon just days after being released. Pokémon Go allows players to virtually capture “wild,” fictional Pokémon creatures that appear in the app’s map, which is based on real-world locations. Using a form of “augmented reality,” users are able to see these mythical animals roaming the world around them, which has led to people, both young and old, frantically running around town on virtual quests.
Pokémon Go provides a revolutionary gaming experience to users by freeing them from normal virtual constraints. If unencumbered by government regulations, education savings accounts (ESAs) could, similar to Pokémon Go, unbind education from the physical classroom, allowing limitless education augmentation. ESAs are the Pokémon Go of education.
Similar to the way Pokémon Go provides users with an unbound variety of Pokémon to search and catch, an ESA provides parents and students access to an unbound selection of interactive, exploratory, and individualized education opportunities. How players explore the outside for their desired Pokémon is how parents and children can seek education options, or education Pokémon, in brick-and-mortar institutions, virtual classrooms, field trips to interesting and out-of-the-box sites, specialized therapies, or anywhere their imaginations and needs take them.
Education savings accounts enable parents to pay for myriad education needs, such as math tutors, English tutors, foreign-language instructors, and special-needs therapies. Parents can power up their ESAs by choosing to save money each year. This is similar to powering up your Pokémon from collecting enough “stardust” or enough Pokémon to evolve them. The powered up ESA will allow children to seek and capture more individualized materials and experiences to meet their learning needs. It’s like being able to search and find Charmander, Squirtle, Jigglypuff, or any other Pokémon—whenever, wherever, and how often you desire, while still being able to power your current Pokémon.
Arizona has the longest running ESA program in the country. The program was initially limited to students with special needs but has since expanded to students in failing schools and to other exceptions. The parents with ESAs love the program because it allows parents to choose to pay for a single class or multiple classes in their local public school, a private school, a virtual school or purchase curriculum for self-study. Being assigned to one single school is like only being allowed to find Pikachu and not the other, more valuable, Pokémon. Florida and Mississippi are the only two other states with an active ESA program that is limited to special-need students, and Tennessee’s will begin in fall 2017. Nevada passed a near-universal ESA program with 93 percent of students in the state eligible. Nevada’s ESA program is currently being challenged in court by two different groups. Until the court rules, the program cannot start.
The Pokémon universe expands over time adding new creatures, new battles, new competitions, and new badge collections. ESA options are expanding in the same way with the addition of new classes, new school opportunities, specialty tutoring, and specialized therapies.
The new technology that now allows augmented reality on your cell phone will allow the creation of new education Pokémon we can’t even dream of today. Examples of what technology can do today are eye exams via a cell phone or medical devices like wireless blood pressure, portable EKG, otoscope, glucometer, portable ultrasound, brain scanner, and even a microscope that can plug into your iPhone.
The future possibilities are limitless as more parents are free to search and choose the education Pokémon their child wants and needs. Education does not have to be bound to a classroom or limited by a bureaucrat any longer. It certainly should not be bound by your zipcode. To quote Mewtwo, “I see now that the circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant. It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.” Go choose your education Pokémon.