The Future of Education: What We Need for
Anxiety about education is high, and everyone seems concerned
about what our education system needs to prepare our children,
and our society, for the future. I've been thinking, writing, and
speaking about education for more than 10 years, and I've come to
a number of conclusions.
First, the education system we have now is not the education
system we will need. What we have now is essentially modeled on
19th century mass production techniques where we move students
through an assembly line of grade levels. But this results in mass
production workers, and the world no longer wants high-wage,
mass production workers. Instead, high-wage countries like ours
need creative, innovative workers, each of whom has been
educated in a unique way to bring out their particular talents and
abilities. This requires an education that is customized for each
To accomplish this, we will need three major shifts: a dramatic
increase in distance education to widen the range of experts
available to teach; an intensive effort to harness computers to allow
older students to pursue self-directed learning; and a significant
change in the role of teachers from lecturers to tutors. None of this
will happen without a long and messy battle among the eleven
groups involved in the education process. Children will suffer, and
education results will vary dramatically from place to place, and
classroom to classroom.
But what can we do to improve education right now? I believe
there are two things. First, we must tell parents that they have the
primary responsibility for their children's education, and must act
accordingly. Increasingly, the children delivered to school are, as a
group, ill-mannered, over-stimulated, violent, undisciplined brats,
addicted to television, computer games, and the Internet, ill-
disposed to learning, and unreceptive to the efforts of their
teachers. It's not all children who are like this, but there is a sizable
and steadily growing minority that is.
Accordingly, schools and governments should embark on a
campaign to inform parents of their responsibilities to the system.
Specifically, it is parents' responsibility to deliver their children to
school receptive and ready to learn. Entering students should be
self-disciplined and polite, and enjoy books because their parents
have read to them since birth. It's also the parent's responsibility to
be involved and know what's going on in the schools, and to blow
the whistle if schools are not doing their jobs.
The second thing we can do right now is to firm up school
discipline policies. This is not a 'zero tolerance' policy, because
every rule needs to be tempered with understanding. Instead, it is a
policy whose only aim is to create a secure and supportive
environment for learning. Any child that repeatedly disturbs that
environment should be removed for the good of the others. If this
means alternative schools for the troubled or troublesome, so be it.
If it means expelling students who have no interest in learning, let
it be. Teachers are spending far too much time coping with
discipline problems, and it is interfering with their ability to teach.
We have a lot of work to do regarding our education system, both
now and in future, and it is too important to leave to the politicians
and educators. Each of us needs to get involved because education
will determine the kind of world we will be forced to live in.