Taking Initiative

Mark Twain once famously said the above words in reference to his experience in the American school system.

That was over a century ago. Would he still have said this in 2012?

The likely (and unfortunate) answer to that question is yes. The principles underlying the American education system have not changed significantly since Mark Twain’s time. We remain attached to a philosophy that:

• Values following directions over taking initiative
• Foists ideologically-laced information upon students without tolerating discussion or questioning
• Neglects young peoples’ natural desire to learn actively
• Prevents students, parents, and stakeholders from having a say in what should be taught

Granted, the United States is certainly not alone. That’s nothing to be proud of, though: along with most of the rest of the world, our students languish in a system whose basic attitude is stuck firmly in the 19th century.

Online technology holds the promise to be a catalyst for change in the thinking of the education community. Check us out on Friday for a discussion of how we can lead the charge in changing how we learn.

Socioeconomic barriers

On this blog, we’re always talking about problems in education that need solving. One of these is the socioeconomic gap in access, quality, and achievement. What specific issues should stakeholders in education be aware of in solving this problem? Here are some examples:

High cost

Sure, in most countries public education is funded by the taxpayer, so it’s ostensibly free. Unfortunately, this isn’t the whole picture. Even in the developed world, public education is often of low quality, requiring learners to supplement their instruction with expensive, resource-heavy private services. And outside of primary school education, the world is full of people who want to learn something but aren’t able to because of prohibitive costs.

Poor access/low quality

In low-income areas of developed countries, as well as those in the developing world, access to quality education is in short supply. Good teachers are few and far between, and other educational resources are even more scarce.

Lack of relevance

As we discussed in our commentary on curricular problems and in our last post, the things that are being taught in public schools are often irrelevant to the learners. For example, often people who require instruction in a trade will receive an abstract education that is of little use in advancing their career aspirations. There are no services broadly available to effectively and cheaply educate interested people in a subject they find relevant or necessary to their life or career advancement.

In our next installment, we’ll be talking about the ways in which online education technologies can help to address these issues.