Opposing Views on the Future Education

While getting my daily dose of Marketing Education reading Seth Godin’s blog, I was reminded of an article I read right after President Obama took office written by ShafeenCharania, a Microsoft employee with fascinating political and educational views, where he proposed an excellent idea to not only stimulate our economy but also stimulate deep learning.  I absolutely respect both writers and believe that both offer unusual perspective on two completely different things; however, their views on education could not possibly be any more different (although they are also talking about two different levels; Seth is speaking more toward higher level education while Shafeen is more concerned with primary/grade school level education).  I believe this drastic difference has a lot to do with the industry each is in.

Seth makes an excellent point that school right now isn’t necessarily about learning; instead, it’s about getting an expensive (“scarce”) piece of paper.  “Earning” a degree doesn’t exactly mean that you’ve learned anything.  It also doesn’t say that you are able to apply the things you learned in the classroom to the real world.  A little over a year ago I completed my Bachelor of Science in Chemistry.  I earned a 3.0 GPA (a rather low GPA by my standards) while working 40 hours a week bartending and entertaining a social life.  My GPA didn’t reflect my ability to understand chemistry or problem solve, but instead reflected my unwillingness to spend hours memorising things I would: never use, could quickly look up if I needed to use it, or knew there was software that already did the work.  Fast-forward to the lab; I did research on optimising the materials used to make dye-sensitised solar cells.  In 6 months of research, I produced more results (and possibly would have yielded a publication/patent if my school was equipped all the quantitative instrumentation to verify my hypothesis) than several 3.8+ GPA students managed in over a year of research.  Why? Because I didn’t go to college to get a rare piece of paper, I went to learn.

Seth further points out those significant universities like MIT are publishing their classes online for free now.  That is awesome!  If I were currently working in the field of chemistry, I would definitely use those classes as a reference for anything I needed to brush up on (or learn for the first time).  If I understand correctly, he believes that the majority of our education system will end up moving to this model-free learning model.

Shafeen goes an entirely different direction with his article about education and economic stimulus.  The most significant undertaking would be federalising the education system.  This could produce a massive uproar from affluent areas that have high schools.  I went to schools in PISD (Plano Independent School District); the school I graduated from was ranked 29th in the nation for public schools (the other two high schools in Plano were 26 and somewhere in the mid 30′s).  I am confident that many residents in Plano and other highly rated public school districts would be distraught to become controlled by the Federal government.  That simple change could have a profound effect on property value and desirable locations.  Perhaps allowing own city school districts would let students get the best of both worlds.

The second aspect of his idea is to lower the age that children are able to start school to 1.  That would allow single parents to make a living without spending a fortune on childcare or let single income homes have two profitable incomes (paying $7/hr on daycare and making $8/hr at work isn’t what I would call a sufficient profit).  Increase the number of teachers (thus providing jobs) and make the student to teacher ratio correspond with the age of the student (e.g. one teacher per six 1 year hold students vs one teacher per thirty 17-year-old students).

To make this work, we would have to construct many more schools (again, providing government contracted work for construction, an industry that is being stricken in this current economy).  There would have to be an established curriculum and standard for what students would be required to learn.  There would also have to be various certifications for the teachers.  While making all of these changes might be very expensive, the current bailout package is already using TONS of money.

I believe education is paramount for success, but the system we have now is based more around getting a diploma and a degree more than it is about learning. Unfortunately, without scarce pieces of paper, certain jobs aren’t obtainable.  It is a crying shame that employers (especially in the science and technology world) aren’t more flexible with their education requirements.  For this idea to really take hold, these free online courses would need some way to verify completion to allow learners to be recognised.  Offering that verification at a price would make the system extremely efficient.

I love the stimulus value of Shaheen's ideas and believe it would be a tremendous help for families struggling to make it by because they can’t afford childcare.  In addition to starting students younger, I also believe there should be an option to advance faster.  Many years of high school felt like the same exact thing being taught over and over again.  Being able to push to college faster (maybe through a testing scheme) would benefit a lot of students who are very bright and get bored with school.  This would be the perfect complement to the free online education Seth recommends to allow maximum progression in the shortest amount of time.  The most significant adverse effect of all this might be the social development of very advanced students.

This post has become a vast ramble, so I’ll stop.  Leave your opinions though! There is a lot to discuss! :-)

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