Making Education Work
In most places around the world, we have a social expectation, a process, and a structure to education. Government and formal universities have defined how we learn, where and when we learn, and the right to say that we have learned. On the surface, we think learning=education=school. Socially, we put a high level of prestige around a degree. We have also limited access to education by cost. The quality of education by tests. If you want a brief, blunt history of schooling, read this short essay by Peter Grey Ph.D., in Psychology Today. For a more in-depth look at the evolution of mandatory schooling, check out Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto. It is important to know how we got here and how we can take the baton of education and launch it into the digital era.
A Quick Look at the History of Formal Schooling
When the economic system was a simple trading system, families survived off what they gathered, grew, hunted or made themselves. Children educated themselves through self-directed play, exploration, community guidance and mentorship from elders. We were naturally learning and thinking about how to solve problems as we experienced them.
Fast forward to the 18th century. Where brilliant thinkers came together to form the first University in Bologna, Italy. A university was a place for brilliance to find reasoning and purpose and influence.
As cities began to siphon off the population from farms and rural communities, gold displaced bartering and trading. Paper money quickly replaced gold as a safer, more portable currency. The new concentration of people in cities brought a need for mass agriculture and public works. This meant the first apartments, trash, sewer, and waste disposal systems. Governments replaced royal and feudal systems. Childhood typically stopped around 9 years old – there was work to do! Schooling was trade-based. Kids had to learn a skill and then get to work. Formal daily community schooling wasn’t yet a thing.
The Industrial Revolution
In the industrial era, if you could walk and talk you were working. Children became forced laborers. No time for imagination to flourish, you got to learn the hard grind of work. This also marked the rise of corporations, bigger government, and the expansion of financial markets. As a result, formal community schooling started to show up in almost every city. Especially those that were controlled or influenced by British rule. You went to school to learn not only skills, but societal values, and religious doctrine.
Universities became available to the wealthy. The first sorority was established for the 1% of women who got the chance to go to school to learn how to become a wife.
After World War II and into the 1950s, mandatory schooling made a radical shift. Automation began to quickly replace human workers on the assembly line and it was no longer possible to get “a good job” without a formal education.
Education Goes Mainstream
At last, group education and elementary schools became mandatory. Finally, math, science, language, and home economics were available to the vast majority of citizens. Universities learned they could make more money and teach more people to memorize and take tests with government subsidies and began advertising to the masses.
The meaning, access, and delivery of higher education have outpaced more traditional trade-based paths. In almost every country, the expansion of fiber optics cables, mobile towers, and the internet has changed…well everything, especially education. Individuals are defining what resources, messaging, subjects, and methods they want to learn and why they want to learn it. Because the manufacturing sector gave way to the information sector in just 20 years, the demand for higher education has skyrocketed. This demand has not decreased even with the astronomical cost of a college education. Certainly, most Americans know by now that a degree is a path to higher incomes and a high standard of living. The Bureau of Labor Statistics agrees.
The Future of Education
Throughout our history, we have used education as a mechanism for survival, discovery, and economy. Unfortunately, it is rare that we look toward education to keep advancing ourselves after our stint in structured classes. Throughout history, education has been accessed only as a way to react to the changing world around us. That’s just not an option in the digital era. We now have unbridled opportunity to take the best practices of generations before us and apply it to new technologies – especially in our working world.
Learning is fluid. It can no longer be considered programmatic and it certainly doesn’t follow a linear path. One size fits all is no longer an option when it comes to education. Making education work in the digital era means that we have the opportunity to connect education to our economy and real working opportunities like never before.
To continue to leverage education and schooling for the digital era, we must find ways to learn from others by connecting in non-traditional spaces. Communication with business leaders, parents, and students will become paramount to prepare our communities for the future. Allowing students access to learning across borders, whether in person or in digital classrooms will become increasingly important in our globalized world. Therefore, we must provide real career choice, honestly inform students of the pros and cons of their choices, and reduce the gap between what businesses need and what Talent delivers.