But where we stand today is equal in the eyes of the law, unequal in the eyes of the children, and it is up to us to finish the work. There is no scalable technology that can teach a child to read, only a teacher can do that; there is no law that can make kids love the wonder of mathematics; only a teacher can do that, there is no judge who can order a child to believe in herself against all evidence to the contrary; only a teacher can do that.

I don't understand the meaning of 'scalable' here. what does that sentence mean? Does that mean 'techonology is not comparable to teacher'?

  • scalable has become a buzz-word, and it is being used here with a faint whiff of sarcasm. Some people think that technology has been infesting the classroom, to the detriment of real teaching.
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 12:00

3 Answers 3


Scalable means that something is able to grow larger and still maintain its current level of effectiveness.

In your sentence:

There is no scalable technology that can teach a child to read, only a teacher can do that

the author is using scalable to concede this point: There may be technologies out there that can teach a particular child to read, or help to do so, but these technologies are not scalable. In other words, just because my child learned to read using an app and a tablet, that doesn't mean we could give 30 tablets to a classroom filled with young pupils, or buy 120 tablets for an entire school, or purchase 1800 tablets for all the schools in a county. Sooner or later, teachers need to be involved in order to teach reading effectively.

Without the word scalable, the author risks making a false statement, because there probably are available technologies aimed at teaching children how to read.

  • 2
    I'm not convinced by this example, but I think you've given a good explanation of a poor use of the word. In particular, if the only thing stopping us teaching all children to read with tablets is that tablets are expensive, I'd say that the technology is scalable. An example of a non-scalable technology would be one that needed to be customized for every child: there simply aren't enough programmers in the world to do that, whereas you could, in principle, buy every child a tablet with a very small increase to taxes. Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 17:48
  • 2
    @DavidR - I'm thinking it's the latter case – that the author believes widespread success can come only with a human teacher who can customize individual instruction and evaluate stumbling blocks along the way. I don't think the cost of a tablet would have anything to do with scalability – not in this day in age.
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 18:33
  • 1
    @DavidRicherby I don't think price is the issue here. (And, indeed, buying a tablet for each kid is cheaper than paying a monthly wage to their teacher, at least in first-world countries.) I think that who wrote that text claims that there is a human factor in teaching that an app cannot replicate effectively, i.e., that one-one-one "customized" interaction is more effective. Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 19:11


used to describe a business or system that is able to grow or to be made larger:

  • To receive funding they will have to demonstrate that their idea is scalable from school level to state level.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

Scalable technology:

  • Scalability is an attribute that describes the ability of a process, network, software or organization to grow and manage increased demand. A system, business or software that is described as scalable has an advantage because it is more adaptable to the changing needs or demands of its users or clients.

    To further understand scalability, here are two examples. First, a basic anti-virus program can become premium and be used by enterprises through downloading certain add-ons or paying for subscription. Because more resources may be added to it, it is considered scalable. On the other hand, more computers and servers can be added to a network in order to increase throughput or intensify security. This makes the network scalable.



Scale in the sense of how many students we're trying to teach at once (small scale, large scale, on a huge scale).

Years ago, we said that something "doesn't scale up well" to mean the benefits of using the technology dwindled or vanished when applied to larger problems or applications. Meaning there is some overhead, reasonable for small scale uses, that becomes prohibitive for larger scale uses. Later we talked about "scalability" or asked whether something was "scalable" leaving out the word "up".

Context makes it clear that the necessary individual attention from the teacher is the overhead here that would be a major "bottleneck" (limiting factor) if someone tried the computer approach with (very) large numbers of students. We are supposed to already know that the passage is only concerned with large-scale approaches.

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