American students: “Where’s New York?”

Now that we’ve dabbled in the topic of teachers, it may also be useful to direct some attention towards curricula. Here are the questions we think should be asked in evaluating the quality of what is being taught at American primary schools, colleges, and universities.

Are students in our education system acquiring valuable, relevant, actionable skills?

For too many people, especially those in higher education, instruction yields very little in the way of a useful skill set that can be applied towards a real job. Employers often quip that their entry-level employees are woefully incompetent at actually doing things – a result of four years of learning abstractions rather than skills.

Are they receiving complete, factual information about the world?

Studies expose major gaps in what US students are taught. Geography is one of the most glaring examples: despite constant news coverage since 2003, a 2006 survey revealed that 63% of Americans aged 18-24 could not locate Iraq on a map of the world. Even worse, a more recent study showed that 50% of young Americans couldn’t even identify the state of New York on a map of the US!

Are they being challenged to think critically and develop ideas?

Although American schools are better at encouraging critical thinking and creativity than some of their counterparts around the world, the overall picture remains bleak. Too often, merely following directions is encouraged while reasonable questioning is discouraged. Getting good grades on multiple choice tests is rewarded, while learning profoundly and thoroughly is not. Following a formula is lauded, but explaining a formula, or questioning one, is ignored.

Are they being taught how to effectively use technology and be players in the modern economy?

Even today, most curricula in US schools do not include incorporating or learning about technology that is vital to becoming a productive player in the global economy. Aside from those specialized in technological fields, most American students’ computer knowledge is a result of personal initiative rather than a systematic approach in education.

Visit us on Sunday for an analysis of what factors may be responsible for America’s curricular woes.

Things to consider

If you’ve been following our latest series here at the Rukuku blog (or even if you just happen to be a living, breathing person), you probably know that the cost of education is too high.

But think about this:

  • What if educators and students didn’t have to worry about meeting at a location and wasting time getting there?
  • What if teachers and learners didn’t have to worry about acquiring the necessary teaching and learning materials?
  • What if the amount of students that an educator can meaningfully interact with wasn’t limited by the physical constraints of a classroom?
  • What if we currently have the potential to dramatically lower the cost of learning while greatly improving its quality?

If these questions sound hypothetical to you, they shouldn’t.

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Apple’s initiative and what it represents

In light of Apple’s recent announcement, this week on the Rukuku blog, I’d like to turn the focus to the implications, issues, and promise of recent tech innovations as they pertain to education. This will be the first post in a series aimed at provoking discussion on the topic.

As often happens when Cupertino executives in black turtlenecks unveil a new creation, the world of tech and education is abuzz over Apple’s new electronic textbook initiative. In case you haven’t heard of it because you live in a hole underground (I do, and trust me, it’s not worth it without internet access), the basic idea is this: Apple, partnering with major publishers, will offer interactive, searchable textbooks that students can purchase cheaply for a yearly subscription.  That’s right, students: no more shelling out $500 every semester for a backache. Instead, all your books will now be neatly and compactly stored on your iPad. Oh, right: you have to buy an iPad. And when you break it (and you will, since you’re a rambunctious college student), you’re gonna have to buy another one. Well played, Apple.

Regardless of the benefits and pitfalls of this particular project, it demonstrates something that is becoming remarkably apparent: technology is changing education permanently and at a rate never seen before. Gone are the days of wasting hours away searching for information in libraries, confining oneself exclusively to reading words on a page in order to learn something, being bored or unmotivated by educators, and other archaic 20th century problems.  Traditional methods of learning are being challenged, questioned, revolutionized, and improved.

If it’s not too immodest to say, that’s where our little company comes in. The world is careening into the future on the bullet train of innovation, and Rukuku is definitely onboard.
Leave us your thoughts on the issue, and stay tuned this week for more on this topic!