But it’s just as likely that your education, and even your kids’, is not so different than your parents’, both in terms of what was studied, and what constituted success.
As we move ever more expediently away from hierarchies toward networks—out of the office and into the cloud—education remains, by and large, pretty old school: A series of requirements to fulfill, tests to pass, with what’s “right” and what’s “wrong,” from K through 12 and far beyond.
Or, in the words of Anthemis Founder, Sean Park: “We, as a society, keep creating people who are brought up in a paradigm that more obviously doesn’t fit the world they work in.”
Park was in conversation with J.P. Rangaswami, who delivered the keynote address at Hacking Finance’s flagship event in Méribel, France this past July.
Rangaswami’s take on how we got to this point: “Somehow we have industrialized the idea of education to have teaching become more important than learning.” He reflected on developing societies, for which “school” means a small group sitting under a tree or huddled in a single room. In these situations, there was—and is—no set curriculum, no test to teach to: The pool of students is too diverse, their needs too varied.
Clearly, standardization was key in democratizing education. But we have moved past seeing the downside; we are sliding.
Perhaps the key to transforming the education system, said Rangaswami, is to think about learning as a lifelong process. “It’s not about K-12,” he said, but rather, about “K80-90. Or K-Retirement age plus one.”
So, in the spirit of back-to-school season, we have explored some of the recent proposals from industry experts that detail how they think we can get ahead.
The Fix: A Better Beginning
In an article published last week, two education policy experts with the Center for American Progress argued that the American high school experience needs a rethink. The reported rate of college completion in the U.S. has slipped significantly since the mid 1990s; the reason, say the authors, is that the K-12 system not only fails to provide students with the skills they need to succeed during the next phase of their education, but it also leaves them woefully unprepared when compared with their peers around the world. For example, the country’s standing in reading has dropped below at least a dozen countries, whilst in math it is down as many as 36.
The true missed opportunities, they say, lie in the lack of alignment between high school requirements and college requirements. About half of U.S. states do not mandate a curriculum that reflects a university’s push to foster the intellectual growth of the whole student—they do not, for example, have a foreign language requirement. They also do not require coursework that more readily reflects the needs of the job market they will enter. According to the report, less than half of states list courses in computer science, engineering, and career and technical education as graduation requirements.
The situation may not be so dire in European schools, where almost all students study at least one foreign language, for example. Indeed, many European countries surpass the U.S. in student performance in math, science, and reading. Still, education philosophy—and quality—varies significantly by region. As is the case in the U.S., emphasis on “core” subjects over arts and technology, and a stark lack of funds, has proven to be problematic in Britain.
The Center for American Progress authors conclude that more investment is needed, at the state level, to ensure that high school graduation requirements better reflect what universities are looking for. And that, in turn, universities demand better from their students. Which brings us to…
The Pitch: College for Life
This past spring, the Georgia Institute of Technology released a report from its Commission on Creating the Next in Education. A group of 50 stakeholders from across the university convened to think deeply about how shifts in economics, demographics, and technology will impact the value of a university education.
The group’s overarching recommendation: Embrace the concept of a “Lifetime Education.” What this means, in the words of Rafael Bras, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, is “integration with primary and secondary schools, flexible learning options, connectivity that enables learning beyond traditional college years, and a network that supports learners all over the world.”
Or, to paraphrase Rangaswami, K-plus-plus.
Now, the commission will try to implement their initiatives from within what they call their “living laboratory”: the Center for 21st-Century Universities. At the top of their list is a push toward “whole person education,” similar to the recommendations from the Center for American Progress: increased emphasis on communication, critical thinking, collaboration, in tandem with the development of technical skills for which Georgia Tech is so well known.
Other goals include the continued development of AI-based personalization systems and a more varied suite of educational offerings that enable more customization—including the “microcredential” and the “minimester.”
The Pitch: Take a Machine Learning Approach to Educating…People
Workforce readiness is a key focus of the conversation around education reform; into the chorus comes an article, last week, from the Brookings Institution’s Makada Henry-Nickie, who cautions against putting all eggs in a technical basket. The potential cost, she says, is neglecting those “whole person” skills that enable people to weather a technological revolution and come out ahead. The limiting idea of “skills acquisition,” she believes, will only preserve the division we have today, as only the privileged few will have a strong enough background to weather a big change, while the rest sink into obsolescence.
To level the playing field, she suggests that we consider an educational philosophy that provides the same sort of “experiential learning” that computer scientists use to improve the performance of an algorithm. Only through constant, frequent, varied exposure to situations and problems can a computer find the right response. And so too, through this type of education, can a student move beyond “right” and “wrong,” or “pass” and “fail,” and into a realm in which these harder-to-test behavioral competencies such as teamwork, or problem-solving, or critical thinking, can lead to solutions and success.
When reflecting back on what is needed at the K-12 level, she echoes the same argument made by the Center for American Progress: “This metamorphosis does not transpire through magic; it requires education reform.”
There are many possible ways to push forward. In conversation with Rangaswami, Park observed that, just as we are doing with work, part of that process is “changing the definition of what ‘productive’ is.” The risk, says Rangaswami, is that we get too stuck on a diploma, or a name-brand university, or a credential, “and build an entire pantheon around that reductive model.”