There is nothing more fundamental to a successful society than a well-educated population. Education generates opportunity and promotes free-thinking. The future of an economy is intrinsically tied to the quality of education to a single generation.
“Human capital is perhaps the single most important long-term driver of an economy” - Rebecca Strauss
If you want to be a world-leading nation, an incredible amount of importance needs to be placed on educating your youth. Sadly, education is often used as a political tool with no real emphasis on enhancement. The United States is guilty of this more than most. A country in which most of it’s citizens would state is the best nation on earth ranks consistently below-average in academia. A staggering 28% of students between the ages of 12-17 were judged to be not on track for their age. An even more staggering 23% don’t graduate from high school.
So, why is the United States underperforming? The national education budget is huge ($1.1 trillion) and it’s populace is living in a country where some of the greatest minds in history were born and raised. Not to mention that the country contains some of the finest schools in the world. The United States should be a modern day Alexandria.
Let’s imagine for a second that real educational reform was a possibility. Where should we devote our energies? Imagine if the school was re-thought for 2013, how would it look?
Like most problems, it’s best to start at the very root. Students are educated by teachers, and a good teacher is nothing short of invaluable. Now, say that you’re a teacher with 10 years of experience based in San Francisco, one of the most expensive places to live in the world. How much do you think your salary is? $100,000? After all, your job is to educate the next generation of world leaders, what could be more important? Well, the real answer is a rather depressing $52,589.
The real problem lies in the attraction. How can you expect to entice the best and brightest to become teachers when the potential rewards are low? Imagine if a generation of students were taught by many of the absolute best in their fields. Many would argue against this sharp rise in the educational budget, but short-term thinking has no place in reform. It is almost guaranteed that the economic rewards in the near future would be more than worth it. Thinking logically, teachers should rank as some of the highest earners in the country. We pay surgeons well because they save our lives, but what of teachers who shape our lives?
Let’s imagine that a tablet sits on every child's desk, and text books have been banished. The tablet is filled to the brim with the best educational content curated by the finest teaching minds in the country. The content isn’t simply paragraphs and images, it’s completely interactive. Don’t understand Pythagoras theorem? Here’s a demonstrative video. A word in Shakespeare’s Macbeth that you don’t understand? Simply highlight it and see the definition. Photosynthesis just not making sense right now? Mark it to read later so you can study it at home. Your entire educational life would live on this tablet, from homework to novels to quizzes.
One of the key relationships in any students educational life is the one between the teacher and parent. If the parent is actively involved in the students school work, the odds of success rise dramatically. However, parents today are often left in the dark as to their child’s progress. Imagine if the tablet synced to the cloud, enabling the parent to login and see their child’s progress, test scores and homework. Whilst we’re at it, messaging between the parent and teacher would be built-in. Communication should not be limited to once a semester, but rather as and when required.
Just as technology companies track and analyze their customers, teachers should be assessing their students in real-time. Thousands of students are left behind because their lack of progression is just never noticed. The tablet would be generating millions of data points as the student progresses, alerting the teacher whenever something doesn’t seem right. Did Jimmy fail his fourth math quiz in a row? Someone should be alerted.
What else would benefit from the vast amount of data generated by students? The syllabus itself. Imagine if the syllabus was re-designed entirely for tablets, with an emphasis on engaging students with the content. If you monitor the habits of students, you can make on-the-fly alterations to the content to better serve them. Just look at how children have taken so naturally to the iPad, it shows how effective an entire syllabus of educational content could be.
More often than not we are not prepared for life after education. As it stands today, education places an incredible emphasis on retaining knowledge. Facts are all well and good, but is it going to help me when I need to figure out how file to my taxes? How about helping me prepare a simple budget so I know how to live within my means? What about basic negotiation techniques? Education is all about preparing you for work, but it should also be preparing our children for the inevitable complexities of life also.
The classes taught today are begging for an overhaul. Many students move at different paces, so is it fair that the class moves at a linear speed? How do we deal with the truly bright students whilst also helping and enhancing those who are struggling? These are all problems that require a complete re-think of how a school works.
Higher education is an incredibly expensive endeavor, but one which can greatly increase your chances of building wealth. The average salary for a university graduate is $51,000, in comparison to $28,000 for those without a high school diploma. Many don’t have the means to undertake the vast amount of debt caused by going to a university, so they simply don’t.
There is room for a middle ground. Imagine a type of school that was focused on placing you in a specific career, not academia. Want to become a software engineer? Simply walk into the classroom, pay $50 and sit down in front of a MacBook Pro. Love the course? Keep coming back, otherwise there are no commitments for you to return. The intense focus on one particular career path would mean the course length would be much shorter than at a traditional university. Upon completion, the school would have relationships with local companies to place students in jobs they know they will excel in. This concept isn’t limited to software engineering, it would work for many industries, from photography to floristry. The school could even have a revenue-share with the teacher (50/50). If the teacher delivers a fantastic course, word of mouth is going to directly translate to money in their pockets.
There are many smart minds working in this area, so I believe the future is bright. However, I am not holding my breath for educational reform originating from the government. I think this presents a huge opportunity for startups to reinvent the classroom, if only to show what progress can be made by starting from scratch. Startups are in many ways the masters of engagement, they know how to hook people into spending more and more time with their product. Perhaps that skill could translate into a better quality of education.
Many of the ideas I have listed aren’t particularly new, and some of them already exist. However, I believe that for real change they need to be realized as a collective. I am only scratching the surface here, for radical educational reform real money is going to have to be spent. A lot of money. But, could you argue that it wouldn’t be worth it?