Thursday, May 13, 2010

Step One: Identify Problems

In our current education system there are many areas for improvement. Listed below are those which I have identified as being the most important:
  • Time: School takes up a lot of time. It can take up to ten years of somebody’s life to finish the schooling they need to start a specific career. Why does it take so long? Should it really take as long as ten years to input that information into our brain? Are we learning things that we will just forget anyway?
  • Money: School costs a lot of money in most cases. Is what we’re spending really worth what we’re getting, especially when students are increasingly borrowing for school tuition and other expenses? Is there a way to make learning less expensive? Is there a way to make learning free?
  • Purpose: The purpose of a university is generally agreed upon. It is to prepare you for your career from which you will derive a standard of living. People go to school to increase their standard of living. The question then becomes: is there a faster, less expensive, more fun way to increase your standard of living? Is there a more effective method? We go to school to become experts, to gain credibility. The degree you receive from a college is your credibility slip. It says to people, “Look at what I’m capable of!” But what are you capable of? Does a degree in Political Science tell me that you’re qualified to run my political campaign? Most people would, of course, say no. We would all typically look to a person’s specific experience in running or working on political campaigns to make such a distinction. So, therefore, the four year degree in poly-sci has lost a proportion of its value. Then what is the value of a degree? Is there a better return on your investment working in a chosen field for four years, gaining specific experience?
  • Platform: School is a platform for knowledge. It is a place that allows us to learn in a structured environment where otherwise it is likely that we would drown in the vast amounts of knowledge that surround us. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of clutter out there. How do we know what types of information we need to know to improve our standings in life? How do we know what we need to learn to advance in our career? Let’s assume we are a low-level sales employee working for a manufacturing firm. We’ve made sales calls for years trying to get people to carry our products. We’ve made a modest commission from all of our sales. Now, we’re hungry for more. We know we’ll never get promoted unless we get better at certain skills like management and leadership. We need training. But how do we know what to learn in order to become a leader or a manager? This is where we insert the platform for improvement. Traditionally this role has been held by college, though in some cases this may not be true. We decide to go to school for business administration, specializing in anything that has to do with management. Four years later we get our promotion to a mid-level manager position. What would happen if we replaced that time with a different platform for improvement. Maybe instead of attending a traditional college, we decide to read a couple books on leadership and even catch up on some of the latest trends in manufacturing sales. We take the initiative and start implementing these in our daily tasks, helping our coworkers with problems, becoming a mentor to our peers, and helping others succeed. We keep a log of our activities and in a few months we report them to our boss and our boss’s boss. Our boss’s boss receives the cc of our logs and decides to have us promoted because he can use somebody with our foresight and drive in a leadership position. This, we’ll say, took a full year. We can think of countless other platforms that may be better than a traditional four-year degree.
    • The issues with self-learning are great, though. It takes a lot of discipline and drive to teach ourselves something and have the guts to apply it. A social setting is more beneficial, especially for those striving to be entrepreneurs. We want to bounce our ideas off people. We want feedback and we want to meet people who think a little like us, and also those who challenge our assumptions. Thus, it would be too simple-minded a solution to tell everybody to teach themselves what they want to learn. Not to mention, there would be no real system for checking if what you were learning were actually going to be beneficial. Some people need an external source of direction. Some people need a way to measure their progress. Having experts give you a general direction and a few pointers can save a lot of headache and frustration.
    • Therefore a social setting would be more ideal. A personal setting where students can learn from and teach each other. Perhaps an expert can be present, but what merit is there in having one person teach a whole class? That is a top down approach. What if we built knowledge from a foundation of students who wanted to learn and apply their knowledge in the real world? What if we had a brick and mortar building where we could meet and exchange ideas and explore ways to make them? Then, once the ideas were talked about and expounded upon, we could try them in the real world. Perhaps the process could take only a week from idea formation to idea trial.
    • What if the platform for learning were driven by ideas and questions instead of a set of curricula?

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