Industrial Age Education Is a Disservice to Students

We've all seen teachers assign texts and say, 'There will be a test to follow.' This is how the system is set up -- but it's not the kind of learning that kids need. What are they going to do when they get out in the real world?
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Both of my parents are educators, and from my travels around the world, there is a clear understanding that we need a major change in how we educate students. The traditional model of education, born in the industrial age with a one-size-fits-all approach, is not meeting the needs of our knowledge economy. We can do much more to give the next generation a personalized educational experience that equips them with the skills, values, characteristics and knowledge they need to thrive in our modern society.

The role of the employee in today's knowledge economy is very different from the role of the employee in yesterday's industrial economy. To prepare for industrial work, K-12 students were taught how to read and write, along with topics that could help them in their everyday lives such as history and arithmetic. The education system emphasized memorization and judged students by their ability to recall factoids on multiple-choice exams.

If the education system didn't provide the specific abilities to perform a function in a factory, the employer could fill the void. Employees could spend a few weeks of on-the-job training and be ready for a lifetime of work without the need for continued education.

Life in the industrial economy was typically viewed as a series of discrete segments: school, work and retirement. But this thinking is no longer viable as we have entered the era of lifelong learning. Facts taught in school today can be obsolete within a few years. Employees must constantly reinvent their skill sets in order to stay employable. Employers recognize they need to be increasingly self-sufficient in helping their employees keep their skill sets up-to-date.

In The Talent Powered Organization, authors Peter Cheese, Robert J. Thomas and Elizabeth Craig write: "The key factor in determining the success of any organization is its ability to use human talent -- to discover it, develop it, deploy it, motivate and energize it. Human talent -- the combined capacity and will of people to achieve an organization's goals -- is a productive resource like no other."

But the current K-12 system isn't preparing students for today's needs. An example of the gap in our education system is found in the shortage of graduates from the programs that meet the insatiable demands of our knowledge economy. This includes science, technology, engineering and math fields, among others.

This flaw is also symbolized by the over-reliance on the results of standardized tests. Standardized testing may be the easiest and cheapest way of comparing students in Arkansas to their counterparts in California, but these tests actually give little insight into a student's ability to think critically and function within the modern workforce. Well-meaning -- but flawed -- government programs such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have increased the emphasis on learning for the sake of an assessment. These programs are not helping develop higher-order skills nor are they sparking the creativity and abilities we need in our next generation.

I have very limited requirements for employees in my company that simply remember tasks and execute. What I need most of all are employees who can take solution A and solution B and figure out how to come up with a new solution, C. People like that are rare. They have to understand the problems, analyze the bigger picture, predict the ramifications of what they are proposing, synthesize new knowledge, be creative as they problem solve and collaborate.

Do my needs as an employer matter to a 3rd grade teacher? I think they should. Nurturing the skills that modern organizations need should begin with early childhood education. How to create, how to invent, how to solve a problem, how to continually learn -- these are skills that should be reinforced at every level of education. But educators shouldn't have to do this alone. We can all play a role in supporting change within the education system and support the move to more authentic assessment. This would free up teacher time to make the learner's experience more personal, inspiring and engaging.

When the system compels K-12 teachers to pour facts into the heads of students and focus on memorization and understanding to ensure they pass a specific test, we are doing a disservice to students. Simply asking kids to read some text, memorize it and then regurgitate it on exams achieves little. I've seen it. We've all seen teachers assign texts and say, 'There will be a test to follow.' This is how the system is set up -- but it's not the kind of learning that kids need. What are they going to do when they get out in the real world?

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