In our previous blog we asked What is the Purpose of Education? And we said that the trillion dollar question is when is our mainstream education system going to adapt to the needs of our post-modern society?
The Council on Foreign Relations recently produced a report that looks at education reform through the lens of national security. The report notes that “Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.” And we would add, insufficient or non-relevant education limits the ability of many to improve their personal career prospects and family financial status and to fully develop as individuals and citizens.
The way former President Clinton put it, in his recent speech at the Democratic National Convention, was “We have to prepare more Americans for the new jobs that are being created in a world fueled by new technology. That’s why investments in our people are more important than ever.” In a recent New York Times editorial, Thomas Friedman notes that in Estonia, they are now teaching computer programming to students in elementary school, as young as first-graders. He then goes on to argue that “work hard and play by the rules” as a formula for success is out-of-date in this highly open, connected, and globalized economy. As a result lifelong learning is an imperative for entering and staying in the middle class.
At the Republican National Convention, Condolezza Rice placed the question in a larger context than jobs and careers, in promoting higher standards for education in support of a true “self-esteem that comes from achievement, not lax standards and false praise.” She sees choice in education for poor kids as a “civil rights struggle of our day.”
We believe that access to quality education is not a luxury. Rather it is a basic human right, and a right of citizenship. But are teaching methods and curricular materials up to the challenge? Artificial intelligence theorist and education reformer Roger Schank claims virtually the entire high school curriculum is irrelevant. Here’s what he says about Chemistry: “A complete waste of time. Why? Do you really need to know the elements of the periodic table? The formula for salt? How to balance a chemical equation? Ridiculous.”
Many are working on education reform tirelessly and the field is undergoing very rapid change, with technology as a major driving force. Three major trends are converging in U.S. classrooms, two of which are centered around technology. These trends are:
- Devices (tablets, smart phones) in the classroom and their associated apps
- Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
- Open Educational Resources (OER)
The first trend we think of as being in the category of digital learning. The third trend spans both digital learning, and project-based and personalized learning. Open Educational Resources typically go beyond the textbook to incorporate interactive project-based learning methodologies that allow individualized, interactive engagement with subject matter content and personalized assessment of progress. The spread of the Internet makes such resources widely available and technology enables interactivity and new modes of learning.
The Common Core State Standards seek to align diverse state curricula in K-12 education in the US. Today each state defines their own standards, curricula and textbooks in an independent manner. Forty-five of the fifty states in the US are members of the CCSS initiative and a majority of states have adopted the standards for mathematics and English language arts that were released in 2010. We see unifying curricula among the states as an important step in enhancing the educational readiness of the nation.
It is also clear that the cost structure of education must change, that we need more bang for our buck. Thankfully we now have abundant technology that can be leveraged to deliver better outcomes for more students. Because of the Internet, education delivery methods and content are evolving more rapidly than ever, dramatically expanding access to learning, while reducing costs.
Devices alone are not the answer. It’s all about how they are used in and out of the classroom in support of learning. Blair Peterson’s article at 1to1schools.net notes it’s really about answering questions such as:
“What skills and knowledge do our students need to learn?
“How do I help teachers bring authentic assessment and real-world problem solving to the classrooms?”
“With the technology in hand, what new resources will help with learning?
“The relationship between new learning and old learning — is it a paradigm shift or a continuum?”
Mainstream education is embracing these new tools and OER content perhaps more rapidly than is generally realized. We see every day the enthusiasm that teachers and educators have around utilizing and contributing to a rapidly growing body of OER content that helps to support a post-modern learning environment.
- Curriki, a not-for-profit organization, believes that post-modern education requires drawing on a much wider range of sources for curricular materials in the personalized pursuit of knowledge. This means going well beyond the textbook. We are pleased to be a leader in hosting tens of thousands of curated open source educational resources, available to anyone on the planet with an Internet connection. Already over 7 million individuals – educators, students, parents, and lifelong learners – have accessed materials at Curriki.org.