North American education has received a lot of criticism lately. Kids are bored, not engaged and not creative in schools. In response to the criticism, many schools, school districts and school territories have re-vamped the K-12 curriculum and changed their assessment processes. As well-intentioned as this solution may be, hasty actions can backfire. These actions are taking our children's future in a dangerous direction.
Remember how the idea of an open office space gained traction and became popular? And how some big companies bought into the mainstream idea to completely re-design their workspace to allow open collaboration in hopes of raising productivity? Now, tested and tried, they're finding poor results. People actually get distracted and produce less in these types of environments.
We are trying to solve the problems in K-12 education by the same approach of implementing mainstream, popular ideas. Popular doesn't mean best or even good. So why are we treating our children as guinea pigs?
De-standardization of education has led to major grade inflation. Curriculum and testing cuts have led to unprepared students struggling to survive the challenges of post-secondary and workforce. Not holding students back when they're not ready to move ahead has led to youth's lack of perseverance and inability to learn from failures.
If everything was made easy for you and you faced no repercussions for poor performance, would you have any motivation to care?
There have been so many cuts in the K-12 curriculum in the last few years that students barely brush the surface of their course material, and in math class a lot of time is spent on reviewing past year's content. The goal of these cuts was to give teachers the opportunity to go more in depth exploring the concepts in each chapter, but that's not happening. Students are simply learning less.
Students are simply learning less.
Tests and standardization were scapegoated as the enemy, and because of that many standardized tests were cut out of the curriculum. In Canada, where there is no federal ministry of education, the cuts in the provincial examinations make it impossible to compare the performance of one student to another. Some teachers are lenient and others are not, so how do we determine how much a student has truly learned or who deserves the acceptance letter to university?
And when students are assessed, they are not given a chance to learn from mistakes as they don't receive adequate feedback. There is poor communication between teachers, students and parents, and many students and their parents feel left out in the dark about their performance.
What has resulted from this shift to make our mass education 21st-century style? Both high schools and post-secondary institutions have had to dumb down their curriculum to cater to the generation who is less knowledgeable and less able to cope with stress. Students' performance is falling, and in the midst of global competition, top Canadian universities like UBC and McGill dropped in the 2017 Times Higher Education World University Rankings and were out-performed by two Chinese universities.
So, how can schools stop the mediocracy they've created before a North American degree becomes a worthless piece of paper?
1. Stop cutting down the curriculum.
The extra class time that the curriculum cuts have provided are mostly being wasted. Instruction times are often not used efficiently. This is what's killing creativity. Students are bored in class with nothing to do.
2. Stop grade inflation.
Lying to students about their true skills is hurting them. They need a true sense of how much they've learned so that they can do something about it. Students will know you lied to them once they graduate and need to perform in the real world.
3. Raise your standards.
Research shows that raising the bar actually leads to students being more engaged, working harder and learning more. When we raise our expectations students will deliver and rise to the challenge.
By raising the bar you may be surprised how much students care about learning.
North American high schools and universities are pumping out under-educated, skills-lacking graduates who don't know how to learn because they never mastered the process of learning. They don't know how to fail because they never had to overcome failures. And they don't know how to succeed because everything has been handed to them.
We don't need to entertain kids to give them a quality education. To improve performance and creativity in schools, try raising your standards -- setting the bar high, expecting quality and creativity in students' work.
A high-quality education that engages students, keeps them challenged and prepares them for their future isn't as costly and complicated as popular belief. By raising the bar you may be surprised how much students care about learning, creativity and producing quality work.
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