Milky Way over Mont Blanc

Milky Way over Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc is the highest peak in the Alps, located on the border of France and Italy.


Teaching Our Young People What’s Important In Life?

Teaching Our Young People What's Important In Life?

In only 10 states are the highest paid public employees not some type of coach. Is this justified? I understand that sports programs can be extremely lucrative for a university but is all that money going back into academics? Or do the programs just expand and increase their expenses? This chart (from 2008) showing the revenue and expenses of major university athletics departments suggests the latter…

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!

An excellent TED talk that my good friend Herve Kouna Metsam sent me- fits in well with the piece I posted yesterday on modernizing education. If you’ve never watched any TED talks you should definitely check it out! Very smart people talking about very interesting important things in a way that’s interesting, often humorous and most importantly easy to understand, even if the concept is a complex one.

Education for the Modern World


            There is a growing disconnect between the aging structure of our education systems and the ever-advancing structure of our society. As society grows increasingly more diverse and technologically advanced, our issues become more complex and naturally require a more innovative and creative approach. Meanwhile, our education systems continue to promote a model of hyper-standardized teaching and testing which only accounts for a small portion of the vast capacities and capabilities of the human mind. 

            The 20th century was a period characterized by rapid technological and infrastructural growth. The onset of mass mechanical production and exponential leaps in transportation (especially automobiles and airplanes) brought with it massive industries such as steel and oil, which required substantial amounts of fairly simple and standardized human labor. This system of rapid growth and advancement drove the country’s economy and provided a large portion of the labor force with employment.

            With every passing year, however, our technological capabilities increase even further; every year there are more newer, better and smarter machines which are more efficient, less prone to mistakes, require less care and liability and are, in the grand scheme of things, cheaper than a human labor force. In light of these simple facts, it is inevitable that virtually all of jobs that we consider “blue-collar” today will eventually be ceded to machines.

            During the 20th century, the limited capabilities of our technology required some skilled labor, but laborers with only a basic understanding of the core subjects, as most of the necessary skills were acquired in on-the-job training. So, while the standardized testing model still had a number of flaws, it created a labor force that was, at the very least, capable of filling the jobs that dominated the market and economy. But as time has passed, this job pool has steadily shrunk as the capabilities of machines have grown.

            I know this vision of the future sounds quite gloomy, but I look at it from the complete opposite perspective; let me explain. Today, the major issues with technologies and machinery is not so much how to make them faster and stronger, but how to make them more efficient, clean and sustainable. As their really is not much precedent for this emerging portion of our economy and society, solving these issues requires not only a sound understanding of the mathematics and science behind them, but also an understanding of the respective cultures of the people who live near, and interact with, the local facilities and technologies, as well as a healthy dose of creativity.

            The bottom line is that our education systems are no longer providing us with adequate skills and training to deal with the problems of the modern world, which is why I feel that it is integral to drastically restructure this system.

            I do not claim to be an education specialist or even an authority; I recognize that there are countless minute details that I am unaware of and which would have to be accounted for in a complete plan. However, I do have a few fundamental changes that I think would take great steps towards bringing our education system up to date with our modern society.

            My first change would be a significant increase in the salaries of teachers. There are many intelligent, motivated young individuals who would make great teachers, many of whom would actually love to be a teacher. However, many of these people choose not to go into the field for the simple reason that it does not provide the financial stability that one would like to have, especially if that person is trying to support a family. If we paid teachers like doctors for example, I have no doubt in my mind that you would immediately see a large number of highly qualified individuals moving into education.

            This large influx would be a necessary component of the second change I would make to the system: a drastic increase in the teacher to student ratio. Every child’s mind works differently, and throughout the schooling experience there is generally a fairly sizable parody between the most advanced kids in the class and the kids who are struggling to keep up. This is why I propose that classes be broken into 3-4 student groups, each with their own personal teacher. This would allow the teachers of these groups to give much more personalized attention to every student, and would have custom curriculum/lesson plans for each student. The teacher’s, with only a few students to worry about, could really get to know each student’s strengths, limitations and interests, and could therefore tailor the curriculum to be not only more understandable to each student but also more interesting; curiosity and interest are the foundation of true learning- a student must be genuinely engaged in a piece of information for it to really stick long-term. There would also be periods of time when three or four of these smaller groups come together to do activities as a group to help build social skills and cooperation.

            The last thing I would change is the system of standardized testing. As a general concept, standardized testing is good, but the amount of emphasis and importance that has been put on these tests is excessive to the point of being detrimental to the students. These tests are useful for getting an idea of where the general level of mastery is in a particular subject, but making the passing or failing of such a test the be-all-end-all only serves to discourage the students on the lower end of them mastery scale. These tests should only be used to inform the future teacher(s) of a particular student as to how adroit they are in a subject and/or where their weaknesses are. I would also expand the SAT to include sections that would be able to gauge skills such as artistic, musical or other creative skills. This would give college admissions offices a more complete picture of each student, making their decisions more informed.

            Our education system is complex and has many issues, but the bottom line is that we will not see drastic improvements in this system unless we are first willing to invest in it, starting with the teachers. By increasing the salaries and benefits of teachers, we would attract many highly qualified young adults who would probably be thrilled to be trailblazers for the new system. By then decreasing the number of students each teacher has to worry about, we would allow the teachers to really customize their curriculum to highlight the skills of each student and fit their personal needs. Finally, reducing the emphasis on standardized testing, consequently reducing the stress on the students, while also expanding the types of skills that the test measures would serve to make each student feel like the education system was really working to nurture and develop their particular skills and interests, rather than trying to subjugate certain skills in an attempt to fit everyone into a similar box; once students feel like the education system is their tool to shape the world rather than the other way around, we will start to see great improvements in our education system. 

The Knowledge Exchange