Do Our Educational Systems Need Change?, According to Yong Zhao, China is an example as what a best (and Worst) education system look like, which tackles an important question as to – what’s the purpose of education and, given that, what kind of schools do we want?, Are we training robots or actually enabling learning among our citizenry?, or with the pace of knowledge nearly doubling every few years is the current education services relevant, or even worthy of the investment of time and resources by us ?.
For a while now, those who follow these things have been in awe of the achievements of the Chinese school system in producing young people who excel academically. For example, students in the US are 33 months behind their Shanghai peers in maths and 17 months in reading. Those are big numbers, which would seemingly translate into a country’s ability to create prosperity by solving problems, and meeting needs, that matter.
The non western school system is less about productivity (students learning more during a given lesson) and much more about input – students just spend longer learning, and often horrendous hours being theoretical and not practical. it appears that eastern schools are poor at nurturing young people who are entrepreneurial, innovative, well-rounded, and suited for the modern-world.
Zhao writes, Chinese schools are “a well-designed and continuously perfected machine that effectively and efficiently transmits a narrow band of predetermined content and cultivates prescribed skills …”
He also quotes Zheng Yefu, a professor at Peking University who writes: “No one, after 12 years of Chinese education, has any chance to receive a Nobel prize, even if he or she went to Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge for college…. Out of the one billion people who have been educated in Mainland China since 1949, there has been no Nobel prize winner…. This forcefully testifies [to] the power of education in destroying creativity on behalf of the [Chinese] society.” I also do not see any new innovation or ground breaking goods, services and concepts coming out of the east.
Our societies my be at risk of becoming stagnant if the current educational system does not keep up with modern times. Education catalysis the intellectuals, who in turn create technologies to drive economic and social activity. There is a growing concern about the trend of students who have tuned themselves out of the current educational methods. The important Debate of whether the present educational system needs to remain the same or be geared towards using modern scientific methodology, is just heating up. Stakes are high as new ideas clash over how to create abundance and shape the leaders of the future. All competing civilizations know that we need to seek more knowledge, but the question is how the process of seeking and imparting that knowledge will look like? How will we shift from the current industrialized model of education to a more democratic one? What are the acceptable changes we are willing to accommodate in our culture and if changes must happen what is a reasonable time frame all this should be implemented in.
Proponents of changing the educational system such as, Sir Ken Robinson, a renowned social expert, have conducted studies to demonstrate that schools are killing creativity. He claims that with increased technological stimulation in the children’s daily lives, like video games, television, internet and free music, classrooms are becoming obsolete. He argues that current teaching methods are boring or not sufficiently interactive. Such is the magnitude of the problem that The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 2011 report states that over 35% of kids are failing to graduate from high school and are falling through the cracks. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice (SRMHP) have shown that more and more of our children are being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and the rates of ADHD are four times more common among boys than girls. ADHD studies are used by educational scientists like Sugata Mitra to advocate the use of alternate methods of teaching techniques such as Student Driven Educating Systems and Self Organizing Learning Systems (SOLS), which have been known to produce dramatic results in increased knowledge retention and keeping both the normal and ADHD students engaged in their education.
Social entrepreneur, writer and billionaire, Bill Gates, mentions in his book “Business @ the speed of Thought” that technology is the catalyst to improve education. He further advocates strongly for increased funding to public schools to keep our intellectual property creation edge in the world. In Sir Ken Robinson’s recent book “The Element” he states several classic examples. He argues that teenagers are not wearing wrist watches anymore, as teenagers believe that wrist watches are a single function device and in turn is useless as they are surrounded by time everywhere. Adults, on the other hand, forced by habit, still continue to wear wrist watches even though their cell phones, cars and computers can tell time at their disposal. In Robinson’s book he further claims that the same kind of phenomenon bears resemblance to our educational system where we are clinging to the beliefs of the past even when we know it is failing.
Critics on the other hand, like Dr. Wendy Johnson who is Dean of Westwood College, a regionally accredited institution, claim that the new mode of educational system driven by technology is making children lazy, violent and antisocial. Alternatively, public school teachers like Ruhina Surenderan, believe that there should be a balance between new technologically driven training and the old ways of teaching, as nothing can replace the personal relationship between the teacher and the student.
A recent Documentary by Frontline called “Digital Nation” demonstrates that parents are unhappy with new technology seeping into their children’s academic world. Children prefer playing video games or surfing the internet rather than paying attention in class or connecting with peers and parents. Parents further claim that the technological distractions have put a tremendous strain on their relationships with their kids, and in many cases the children had to seek counseling. Politicians, Legislators, tax payers and local authorities are riding on the resistance to upgrading schools with expensive technologies, as balancing the budget and financing other social schemes is far more important than investing in the new technologically driven education system. Over time more serious challenges among students have surfaced. Problems like bullying, hazing, gang related violence and drug or substance abuse have now become the norm even among affluent school districts. In poorer school districts, insufficient infrastructure like lack of adequate toilets, small classrooms and libraries have become a common sight. Abuse of school budgets is rampant, where most money is now directed to high administrative costs than actually hiring competent teachers or improving the infrastructure. Some critics like Bob Bowdon considers our school system operating like a self serving network of “cartels”. In his 2009 documentary Bob Bowdon indicates that the increased crime rates and low values in our society can be traced back to substandard education.
The good news is that, the subject of overhauling our educational system is now on the agendas of several NGO’s, activists, parent teachers associations, political campaigns and even powerful church and spiritual circles. Proposals like introducing the voucher system, which would enable the parents to choose schools on the basis of the quality of the education rather than being forced to choose on the geographical location of their zip codes is gaining momentum. Privatization of public schools and establishing more charter schools is now very close to becoming the main stream norm. I personally think if the federal prisons can be privatized and cell phones can become a thousand times cheaper and faster, than why not our new educational system can evolve by becoming more in tuned with the changing times. Singularity University, co-founded by Peter Diamandis, is a classic example of the democratization of education as a way to catalyze and instill innovation and improved social entrepreneurship. Learning should be a lifelong quest and sometimes the only way a promising student can experience that lesson from that perfect teacher is by having access to it through technology. TedEd.org is now in the process of making those vision a reality.
If we are not prepared to be wrong, we will not be able to create anything original. But sadly our current educational systems are stigmatizing failing in school. Education systems have to be as diverse as we are and we should consider transitioning from the current standardized form of teaching to a more personalized one. Transformation or change has always been controversial, and education is no exception to that rule. We as human beings want to evolve and invent the future but at the same time love the comfort and stability of the past. The concern for the future of our children and our civilization is a very serious one and the decisions we make today will resonate in history for a long time. AT&T says it best that “the system is the solution.” In short, we should all invest our time, resources and knowledge in a more engaging and productive educational system. This new education model will lay the foundation for a safe, accessible, affordable, adaptable and innovative game plan that will puts our children first who in turn will facilitate in creating abundance for all of humanity.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 2011 report
The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, was published in January 2009 with Penguin. By Sir Ken Robinson.
The Road Ahead (1995) and Business @ the Speed of Thought (1999) by Bill Gates
Hole in the Wall by Sugata Mitra educational scientist
The cartel (2009) Bob Dowdon
Peter Diamandis lecture on ted x prize awards