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The Mis-Education of… Education

by Anthony Bontrager on April 19, 2013

“You been tellin’ me you’re a genius since you were seventeen

In all the time I’ve known you, I still don’t know what you mean

The weekend at the college didn’t turn out like you planned

The things that pass for knowledge I can’t understand”

 – Reelin’ in the Years – Steely Dan


grading_higher_education_onpage.jpgOver the past decade, educators and lawmakers have all sought new and unique ways in which to advance the learning process for students.  However, they have failed to approach the problem from the perspective of the student or taken real advantage of technology and how content is and will be consumed.

Whether we’re talking about the abysmal Connected Math curricula or the unfortunate (and unintended) consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act where teachers focus purely on retention and test scores as opposed to comprehension, these technocratic approaches to education reform have shown little measurable or sustainable success.  We’ve simply been left with a K-12 and even higher education infrastructure that has started to resemble the Greek economy – a real hot mess.

Quite an indictment to be sure, but let’s think about a few things.

Education is a mission driven endeavor, pure and simple.  As such, we need to view it from the perspective of the student – how they consume, process and handle information in today’s technology-centric and interconnected world – and what we want to achieve out of the process.  To do this, we need to approach education and student involvement like a brand seeking to reach its audience – with passion, resolve, a clear customer focus and a well thought out path to ROI.

More specifically, we need to:

 – Attract – Build a real call to action that evangelizes educational benefits at all levels in an omni-channel manner.  Remember Schoolhouse Rock?  This 1970’s campaign made complex concepts like the passage of laws understandable to even the youngest students and encouraged them to learn more.  Similar analogues and educational ambassadors could be developed to show how the importance of education can be both fun and instructional and syndicate this across traditional and digital channels for the widest possible reach and consumption.

– Engage – Recognize that technology is an integral part of students lives, whether inside or outside of the classroom.  Teachers have an opportunity to continue the education process through non-traditional channels such as blogs, newsfeeds, live chats, etc. which can serve to deeply engage students, ensure that concepts are understood and comprehended, and that the student feels empowered and part of the learning process.  Another benefit is what I call the “removal of distance from distance learning.”  In cases where a child misses class due to a family issue or illness, or whether a student in Johannesburg is taking an online course taught in London, technology has removed any detriment to the lack of physicality – whether instructional or communal – and allows education to continue uninterrupted.

 – Educate – While technology is one of the great enablers that educational systems have not used to its fullest benefit, we still need to “get back to basics” when it comes to core curricula – but with a bit of a twist.  What I mean here is that concepts such as “Connected Math” which have been proven to be detrimental to educational advancement must be replaced with more traditional methods that are easy to comprehend, readily applicable to modern problem solving and lack the gimmickry found in these new age approaches.  As a parent of a 12 year old, I can’t tell you of the frustration in our house when trying to understand why a 2-step multiplication problem now takes 5 – all under the guise of new learning.  Like the advertising community coming up with advanced measurements and statistics that have no real bearing on ROI, we’ve gotten too cute for our own good when it comes to education.  Time to get real.

 – Inspire – When I talk of a “twist” to education, I mean that there is more to it than simply what goes on in the classroom.  While I don’t agree with all of Thomas Friedman’s concepts, he is inherently right when he says the world is flat.  As such, we have not only the opportunity but also the obligation to expose students to other countries, cultures and families around the world.  Nothing we do in the classroom will teach a child to become a critical thinker more than putting them together with peers from other countries to get different perspectives and to share their own.  This “exchange of ideas” even at an early age not only helps round out the educational process, but fosters long-term understanding and appreciation of foreign concepts, cultures and ideas – a common ground if you will, that will inspire students to think beyond their own geographical boundaries to become real “world ambassadors.”  This could have quantifiable benefits to the many geopolitical issues that have plagued every society since antiquity.  We’re overdue to make this kind of investment, so let’s start now.

In the end, education must become the intersection where technology, core educational principals/theories and communication all meet.  Applied to a broad geographical footprint, and I think you have something that radically disrupts the inadequate situation we currently find ourselves in.

I could be totally wrong, but what if I’m not???


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