The need for education reform grows more obvious daily. We claim to have learned that if we keep doing what we’re doing, we are going to keep getting what we are getting, but our talk about providing a world-class education to all students is unsubstantiated boasting. We once led the world in education but we now rank 16th in science, 22nd in math and 18th in high school graduation rates. How can we compete in a twenty-first century world when we continue an eighteenth century education system? We tweak instead of changing a system that isn’t working effectively.
In 1800, it was widely accepted that the body of knowledge doubled every fifty years. By 1950, we were told it doubled every ten years; in 1970, it was projected to double every five years. Today it doubles every two to three years. Innovations and technology have revolutionized manufacturing and production in almost every field but somehow we either turn our heads or refuse to see how these lessons apply to education.
New technologies and innovations are here now and, curiously enough, are being developed in our backyard. Lenovo, with American headquarters in Research Triangle Park has joined with Intel Corporation to produce an affordable, child friendly laptop computer and software package for students in grades K-8. The Intel Learning Series software offers instruction, interaction and resources that could immediately reform and improve educational opportunities, especially in rural areas and among students who have traditionally struggled. More innovations will emerge as we adopt these new technologies.
Think about the possibilities if we could guarantee every child a master teacher in every subject. With lessons on a tablet or computer each student could proceed at his or her own pace. Tests or other evaluation tools at the end of each unit would determine if the child had mastered material sufficiently to move to the next level and homework and tests could be submitted online, helping to relieve teachers of grading papers and recording grades. We might even be able to save money on education as textbooks and other materials would be loaded into the device, reducing much of the costs of buying and storing textbooks while eliminating the need for children to drag around those heavy volumes.
Education reform must begin in our universities. New curricula are necessary to redefine the role of those in education. Instead of the traditional classroom model of standing in front of a class lecturing, teachers would become coaches and mentors for students, monitoring to ensure students were doing their work, while providing encouragement and enrichment experiences and materials. The role of that classroom teacher will be even more important in encouraging socialization, classroom dynamics and values training.
Can it work? In North Carolina, the Mooresville Graded School District supplies MacBook Pro computers to every child in grades 3-8 and has become a national digital learning model for the U.S. Department of Education. Other school districts are likely doing the same. The point is that we have the technology and capability, we just need to learn from and duplicate these best practices Our young people deserve the best chance to compete in the new world. It won’t happen until we give them the best tools and learning methods available in the twenty-first century.