President Obama has been focused on short term job creation. While this has positive effects on the lives of the unemployed, it does little to correct structural problems in the system. The President should be focused on leading a national initiative to reform education for the 21st century so that people have the skills required to better manage their own economic well being. There are two powerful reasons for such an initiative:
- The country badly needs a stated direction. Since the fall of communism the country has had no core focus, a set of beliefs and aspirations that unite us. The recent plague of congressional bi-partisanship is a symptom of such a lack of direction.
- There will be fewer and fewer traditional jobs that were so plentiful after WWII. Outsourcing, offshoring and increasing labor productivity all point to the erosion of the traditional notion of jobs.
"high-wage, high-skilled job[s]".. “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge".
The job opportunities that remain will require the ability to add value rather than perform rote tasks.
No less a commentator than Clayton Christensen, the HBS professor, shares Friedman's view. Christensen believes that the education system is so endangered that even the continued existence of HBS is in doubt. Christensen believes that education must become more practical to meet the requirements of the 21st century.
Another group that shares the Friedman view is Education Futures, who advocates for Knowmads. "A Knowmad is a "creative, imaginative, and innovative person who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere."
My own views match very closely with Friedman, as shown in this post from January 2012 titled "How to Survive the End of the Industrial Age". For about the last two years in my entrepreneurship classes, I have been advocating that students study entrepreneurship as much for the skills required in a jobless 21st century as for learning how to identify opportunities and build large new companies. The skills required for entrepreneurs are detailed in this post and closely match Friedman's emphasis on critical thinking, collaboration and communication. These skills can, of course, be learned at a very young age. The original research on learning by Jean Piaget demonstrated this fact.
One may wish to point out that a dramatic change to the education system does not require federal government leadership. However, the private sector appears as disinterested as the governemnt in reforming education to produce 21st century skills. The non-profit sector lacks the resources to really take on the challenge. Most likely the U.S. will just muddle through to mediocrity by never vigorously considering the skills that children need for the 21st century. The Bush initiative for "no child left behind" would appear to support my view on the future of U.S. education.
To reform education requires four key parts:
- Education must be focused on student centric learning to match the need in the 21st century for individual responsibility for economic well being; self-paced learning as opposed to grade-based classes is probably a natural outcome of such an approach
- Education must be managed at the local level rather than by the federal government in order to encourage community support for the initiative; community/parental support greatly improves educational outcomes
- Teaching of entrepreneurship needs to be started at the middle school level to reorient the next generation of children to the concept that they must manage their economic well being
- Online resources need to be meaningfully integrated into the curriculum to free up resources for the new educational environment, which means that teachers likely will need training to successfully work in the new environment
Do five year olds need to manage their own fate. Probably not, but they need to be raised in an environment that encourages individual initiative and not rote memorization of facts that are better explained by an online lecturer.
Addition: This post from Edudemics advocates four activities for students to foster learning. Number 3 is startups.
Image credit: www.nche.gov.mt The irony is noted.