Why Today’s Education System is Failing Our Children
Schools are supposed to develop skills and capabilities while encouraging kids to “think differently” and maximize their abilities. Sadly, most schools are failing to do so today. The reasons rest within curricula that are not keeping up with the pace of change our world is undergoing, teachers set in their ways with little support to embrace change, and technology thrown in for good measure often without a clear purpose. In other words, schools continue to operate on fulfilling the needs of an Industrial Age student rather than preparing students for the Information Age.
Some look at the layout of an average classroom used today and argue that education has changed a lot. They go as far as to say the entrenched teacher-centered methods have become a hybrid one that incorporates a student-centered approach. While this is true, the change towards this hybrid approach might relate more to the need to deal with a larger number of students in one class than a real change towards fostering collaboration and critical thinking among students.
The World Economic Forum produced a report in early January called:“The Future of Jobs”. The report looks at what the employment landscape will look like in 2020. After talking to chief human resources and strategy officers from leading global employers, the authors listed the top 10 skills for 2020 and compared them to what was required in 2015:
By the time my third grader will be looking for a job, the change will be even more dramatic. She will have to be ready for what the World Economic Forum calls the “Forth Industrial Revolution that is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres”.
Technology: Friend or Foe?
One cannot talk about how education is changing without assessing the role technology should have in the classroom. Some blame technology, and often the parents in particular who act as facilitators for empowering children (especially in K-12) with knowledge. Apparently, having kids learn through apps puts teachers at a disadvantage in the classroom because they are now faced with students who show different levels of knowledge and skills. It also puts pressure on teachers to rely more on technology, not something many necessarily feel comfortable with. As you can sense from my tone, I don’t think this is a bad thing. I am sure that, to some extent, this is a similar effect TV had on my generation or libraries and newspapers with previous generations. The big difference today is it’s not just about acquiring knowledge. It is about learning in a different way which, I would argue, does put pressure on teachers. Pressure to relate to children in a different way. The same pressure many employers are facing as Millennials, and Gen Z after them, join the workforce.
The main reason why technology creates a challenge is that schools are focused on standardization, not customization. From teaching to tests, schools today are about students fitting a mold and falling within pre-determined parameters that leave little room for individuality, let alone creativity and critical thinking.
Ironically, technology could empower teachers to embrace customization by allowing for a more tailored teaching approach. Children would be able to work more at their own pace, allowing students who are underperforming to focus on improving while letting students who are more advanced to be challenged, resulting in a more engaged class overall.
Adding Devices is not the Same as Integrating Technology
Today, however, most schools use technology, not to transform teaching, but rather to fit around traditional teaching methods, and in most cases, substitute what used to be done on a piece of paper.
Good or bad, children are learning in a very different way today. Children who have access to technology and games such as Minecraft learn a new kind of creativity, one that has no physical limits. If you spend a few minutes talking to your Minecraft-obsessed child (like mine), you can see these pixelated worlds teach them about different materials, food, resource management, project planning, teamwork (if they use multiplayer), problem-solving, responsibility, and accountability for their animals. A whole host of YouTube program–like Mineflix–is also teaching kids how they can learn and express themselves through storytelling which plays a huge role in modern gaming. Children learn more about their world and their building options and try it out themselves. The virtual manipulation Minecraft allows is like Lego creativity on steroids. I am clearly not alone in believing there is something in Minecraft that benefits education. Microsoft created the Minecraft Education Edition and teachers who have used it speak of higher engagement, collaboration, experimentation and a greater sense of accomplishment.
Embracing tools like Minecraft Education Edition can pivot the learning environment from teacher-centered to student-centered, where students not only teach other students but they can help teachers learn. These new methods can help the transition from a textbook-driven method to a research-driven one, from passive learning to active learning, from a fragmented curriculum to an integrated and interdisciplinary one, much like the skills the workplace will require.
There is so much transformational tech coming that I fear schools will miss out if they do not start thinking about integrating it now. Augmented and virtual reality are at the top of the list for how impactful they could make learning science, geography or even history lessons.
Tech, of course, is not just about learning per se but about data analytics as well. Being able to analyze data in real time will have a tremendous effect on teaching methods and help with change. Think about how powerful it is to have insights about students, especially the ones that are “at risk,” so you can actively adapt your planning and teaching activities. For students, the ability to measure their progress with their personal goals would also be motivational and engaging.
Preparing Our Children for an AI-Driven World
Technology is actively transforming the world today and will continue to do so whether schools are ready for it or not. As artificial intelligence grows in importance for tech companies around the world, our education system should focus on giving our children the skills they need to have a successful career when they grow up. This starts with acknowledging the skill sets my generation were taught (and served me well) are no longer critical for my daughter. Critical thinking and problem-solving are the first steps towards coding. Learning how to communicate effectively is at the center of successful collaboration and leadership.
The reason schools are important in this process is unless education takes on the accountability to integrate technology and prepare our children for their future, the divide we see today between classes will only widen.
I am worried about the prospects my child will have in the future, and I am one of the lucky parents who can afford to provide technology to my child. I am a concerned parent in the heart of Silicon Valley with a third grader who is attending a private school. If I am concerned and I live in the bubble, what is it like for children across the country?
At nine years old, she has her own iPad, and a Windows 2-in-1 and has been fortunate enough to have tried VR and new devices such as Amazon Echo that teach her to interact with different computing devices using her voice. I am well aware I am the exception, and when you look at how technology is distributed today, it is anything but an equal opportunity. Tablet penetration is still limited for the most part to households with $100,000 incomes and up. Smartphones are, for many Hispanic and Black Americans, the only way to access the internet due to lack of broadband access in their home.
Schools must close the technology gap, and they need to do so in a meaningful way, not just using tablets and Chromebooks as an alternative to a book or as a time filler. Of course, schools are not going to be able to do that on their own. Funds are needed for acquiring the technology and maintaining it. More importantly, funds and support are needed to allow teachers to learn. A complex process I realize, but one we cannot postpone.