A radically new vision for our education system

Last Call

marc frWe talk a lot about the value of education in the U.S. Every South Carolina governor’s commencement speech ever given contained a promise for better education, according to NPR.

But little is actually accomplished. And as a result, South Carolina still ranks 45th in the nation when it comes to education, according to the U.S. News & World Report.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development publishes comprehensive statistics on global educational performance, among other data.

Three key points from its latest report puts our nation’s performance in perspective:

  • The U.S. ranks in the middle of the pack in international comparisons.
  • Our ranking is not improving, according to data from 2005 to 2015.
  • We are not underspending compared to other countries that achieve more with less.

This leaves me with the following conclusion:

  • It is time to rethink our entire approach to education, because incremental improvements will simply not get us to the head of the class.
  • Our current system is using old-fashioned methods that do not take into account how technology and students’ ability to learn has evolved.

Here are five essential problems with how we do things now: 

  • We ask our teachers to be organizers, educators, disciplinarians and life coaches all at the same time. This is simply too much on top of a 1,000-hour teaching schedule. This results in ineffective use of time, sub-optimal intellectual engagement for students, and stress and burn-out for teachers.
  • Today’s technology allows for more impactful teaching methods compared to the typical format followed in our classrooms.
  • We ask all students to learn at the same pace.
  • We don’t teach and practice life skills.
  • Our infrastructure is too centralized, with too many layers of administration.

As a solution, I propose that we make all teaching material available via a worldclass interactive online course system that includes videos. Teachers would be able to focus guiding and coaching students through the course material, and students could, to some degree, learn at their own paces. Testing would be more efficient and immediate, and it would allow students to go back to chapters they did not absorb properly. It also would ensure that students in rural and less affluent areas would have access to the same quality of academic material.

Life skills are becoming increasingly more important. We should be teaching our kids how to learn, how to think independently and make decisions, how to research, how to tell the difference between fact and propaganda, and how to find solutions to unexpected problems individually and as a member of a team. We also should be teaching our kids about ethics and morals so that they can develop their own.

We should focus on offering more vocational learning opportunities that can be applied to pursue successful careers. We should develop a decentralized infrastructure — think of it as geographically dense learning centers instead of centralized schools. This would cut commute time and allow for a more controlled, personal and relatable environment. This might also be safer, and officials might be able to better control socially negative behavior more consistently.

This vision is radically different from what we have today, but that’s not a bad thing. Our current learning system gets a passing grade at best, and that is simply not enough for a future that will demand more complex and varied skill sets from forthcoming generations. Ninety percent of educational spending is funded by states, which would have to take the lead supported by a federal incentive program. We can do this if we finally are prepared to put action behind the promises. 

MARC FREY – media entrepreneur


National Public Radio (NPR) 
2018 US News & World Report