There is a disconnect that exists between the type of students that this country says that it wants and the systems that are created in order to honor the perceived values. Our county says that it wants to restore its dominance in innovation throughout the world and therefore needs people who are innovators. We say that we want students who are independent thinkers, problem-solvers and are equipped with the 21st century skills. Are these really the values that our system portrays?
Our system has not been redesigned to honor the skills that are necessary in today’s global economy. We continue to reform a system that was set up to create workers who were equipped with the skills necessary to be successful in the 1950’s. The system has only shifted in slight increments that have not led to the drastic changes that are needed in order for the system to respond to the types of skills that learners need to have in order to be successful in this century.
Sadly, learners know that the educational system was not built with them in mind. They show this by disconnecting and failing to actively engage in their own education. If we are not engaging our students, who are teaching?
The time has passed where small incremental changes will be able to address the woes facing our educational system. Here are some key places that make it clear that the time has come for a drastic overhaul of the educational system:
How can we expect to create innovators and problem-solvers if tests are created to standardize the system? According to an article in the Huffington Post, the average 8th grade student spends about 2.3% of their educational time testing. This amounts to about 25 hours of testing throughout the year. This does not include the amount of time that teachers spend directly preparing them for the test or the time that is lost due to the down time after taking the tests. Our school devotes 2-3 weeks of educational time to testing each year. During these weeks, the students take the test in the morning and spend the afternoon in light academic activities. The result: 2-3 full weeks of lost instructional time.
Beyond the fact that our students are being over-tested, the importance that has placed on these tests has negatively shaped the way education is done in this country. I am fortunate enough to teach in an institution that does not place as high of a value on these scores. Many teachers and their students are not. Due in large part to high-stakes testing, teachers are forced to cover a large amount of material in a very short amount of time leaving students who cannot keep up behind. The breakneck pace established in classrooms across the nation allows little room for exploration of concepts in application. Do we a system that is designed to develop deep-thinking or do we want a system that creates people who are able to parrot back information that is devoid of meaning? Most of us would agree that we choose the former. Does our current system truly suggest that?
How can we expect students to become dynamic learners with the ability to solve complex problems when we rely on an inflexible curriculum? Teachers across the country are forced to teach out of a textbook or another form of paced curriculum that does not honor the current needs of the students. The same companies who produce the standardized tests are those making huge profits off the curriculums that are aligned to the tests. These companies sell it as the latest and greatest way of teaching the topic, when in most cases you could have found a similar book 60 years ago when we first started “reforming education”.
One of the biggest jokes in education policy makers have ever proposed is that a scripted curriculum is all that we need to improve the education of our children. It’s as if teaching can be equated to opening a book and inserting information into a child’s head. Those of us who have taught know that teaching is far more complex. Sadly, there are still districts across the nation that force teachers to maintain a pace regardless of whether the students ‘get it’ or not. Students are forced to suffer in an institution that is not responsive to their needs. There is no wonder that there is a declining engagement in education as children become older.
The fact that curriculums are inflexible and teachers are often forced to adhere to the inflexibility isn’t the whole problem. Our world has evolved in a way that allows us to have a surplus of information. By teaching from a single source, we are not allowing our students to gain insights into the complexities of the world and how to deal with those complexities. Teachers need to be able to teach our students in a way that allows that them to be able to decompose and understand the vast amount of information that exists in the world.
There was a time when there was a scarcity of information. In this time, there were only two ways to obtain information: reading it in a text or hearing it from an instructor. Those times are gone. If we truly want our students to develop the skills necessary to succeed in the world, we need to create educational experiences that are as dynamic and diverse as our world.
How can we expect students to solve complex problems without using a variety of information? As it stands currently, content information exist in silos called classes. Very rarely is there overlap between what is being taught in one class and another. When there is overlap, students are quick to ask “Why are we doing science in math class?” or whatever the case. When is the last time that you have solved a complex problem without bringing in a variety of skills from different places? If we want our students to be able to solve complex problems, we need to give them opportunities to engage in this type of problem solving.
Not only does solving complex problems allow for students to develop the necessary skills, it engages students deeply in education. Students will engage in something that they believe has value. Complex problems based in the real world have value and move the students in them in a positive direction. They are learning to think in complex ways— ways that they will be expected to think later in life.
If we say that value the ability of our students to be innovators— people who are independent thinkers, problem-solvers and are equipped with the 21st century skills, then there must be value placed in these things. Our current educational system is not set up in a way that fosters the skills that we wish to see in our learners— the skills our learners need. There needs to be a drastic overhaul to the current system. The system needs to be responsive to the needs of the students and flexible enough to change and adapt to our ever-changing world. If we want to foster creativity, problem-solving, independent thinking, then we need to create students to engage in these practices. We want innovators, right?