Why Hasn’t There Been Much Innovation In Education?

Education is easily one of the most popular topics of discussion when it comes to politics. With the United States being ranked at a lowly 17th place out of 40 countries in terms of education quality, there is clearly a problem. Although hundreds of startups in the education technology space are frantically searching for new solutions to the rigid and desperately innovation-void education sector, it still seems like much hasn’t changed in last last 100 years.

Yes, it may be common to see a smartboard or a projector in a classroom nowadays, but the education system, at its core, has not undergone much change at all. Children still spend most of their time writing on a piece of paper, sitting at a desk, and class time usually consists of 45 minutes (or longer) of lectures performed by instructors standing at the front of a room. In many cases, students do not get personalized education, interactivity, or an interdisciplinary support from their school. The same was true in the year 1900 and unfortunately, not much has changed in that respect.

With there being so many ambitious and capital-heavy initiatives that are tackling the massive education quality gap, you would think that better education is right around the corner. Unfortunately, bringing change to an age-old system isn’t trivial. Similar to how there is no “one-size fits all” solution to teaching a class, there is no single solution to fixing education — it is a multifaceted problem. Despite its complicated nature, the problems plaguing our education system are 100% worth trying to understand. Let’s explore a few of these problems.

Education Standard Inconsistencies

There are over 13,000 school districts where decisions are made locally, and there isn’t much national regulation on how school districts decide to actually implement their curriculum. On top of even that, some schools aren’t fortunate enough to get enough funding to develop schools that properly augment students’ educational experience.

Continuously decreasing amounts of funding take away from valuable afterschool programs, electives, club activities, and other extracurricular activities. Further, even if private companies can create innovative technology that increases student retention and understanding in school, a vast majority of schools cannot afford to bring in those solutions. With that said, the question concerning the education sector extends past the notion that technology is the key, because that might not be enough.

Socioeconomic Disparity

In addition to having a lack of funding, many schools districts are established in low-socioeconomic locations where crime rates and unemployment are high, and graduation rates tend to be low. In many studies, it has been shown that lower income correlates with lower performance in school. Developing a school that can deliver high-quality education in such an area proves to be a difficult task. In cases such as these, innovation in the education system regarding teaching styles and the technology being used simply is not enough. Improving education does not necessarily begin in the schools themselves, but also the communities that they are nested in.

Conservative Notions of Education Are Persistent

For over one hundred years, education clearly hasn’t changed much. As the saying goes, old habits die hard. Many of the key decisions makers who decide the direction of the education sector still hold conservative and outdated notions towards education. With teaching approaches like rote learning (memorization vs. meaningful learning) being prevalent and unchallenged for such a long time, it becomes difficult to enact shifts in education at the government level. This phenomenon translates at even the district level, where committees who elect district superintendents also hold similar conservative notions towards education and make important decisions based on those notions.

Schools Weren’t Built for Individual Achievement

In the late 18th century, a school system model called the “factory model school” first emerged in Europe, and eventually in America in the mid-19th century. In a nutshell, this system was meant to be the most efficient way to increase the minimum level of education in a given population. This model has existed for 200 years, and as a result, creativity, safety, collaboration, and critical thinking are not at all valued, and neither is the individual. With class sizes north of 30 students, this model was not meant for personalized education where individuals could stand out, learn in personalized ways, and excel at their own natural talents. This brings us to the next point…

All Children Learn Differently

As Prince EA, the rapper, spoken word artist, and civil rights activist, says in his music video “I Just Sued the School System”, “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll live its entire life believing that it is stupid”. Intelligence cannot be judged on something as binary as a standardized test and instead depends on many factors, such as the learning style that best fits the individual. Although research is still being done on the effects of personalized education, the results look optimistic.

With many edtech companies, like Lalilo, making their way to the public scene, some children are finally given options to improve their experience in school and understanding of class topics. Although personalized education might be a huge aspect to bringing the school system to the future, there is still plenty of work to be done in other sectors in order to come to a genuine solution.

Like any complicated problem, sufficient solutions do not emerge overnight, and they also will not come from one place. The fact of the matter is that finding proper solutions will take the combined efforts of policy-makers, private companies, nonprofit initiatives, and the school districts themselves, to take significant steps towards the improving education system in this country. Problems like these take patience, dedication, and time to resolve, and although it has been over 100 years since education has changed drastically, it is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.