Do you believe that the education system is better or worse than when you were at school?
Micheal Porter recently published a strategic plan for the recovery of the US economy. It applies equally to the UK economy. A key requirement is that our education system must get very much more rigorous and competitive.
We all like to criticize the educational system and claim that it is not what it once was. I think, in business subjects at least, our education system is BETTER than it was when we went through university. This is what we can expect of graduates
- Strategy. They will know who Micheal Porter is and rattle off his work on 5 competitive forces, define the supply-chain, and appreciate how international competitiveness rests on hyper-competitiveness at home.
- Management science. They will have done some management science and be able do some basic process modelling with diagrams and excel spreadsheets.
- Social media. They are likely to be able to set up, with relative ease, basic social media facilties like networks and blog and work effectively in companies like Best Buy who use internet-mediated collaboration extensively.
- Social constructionism. They are used to giving their opinions and are well schooled to accept there are many points-of-view to a single issue.
- Positive organizational scholarship. They are increasingly exposed to the idea that ideas emerge from the group or situation and are not dependent on an all-powerful, all-knowing “boss”.
Is this enough though?
While I believe that our education system has got better, is it enough? There are three areas that worry me about what our students learn.
- General knowledge including knowledge of science. Students, reasonably in my opinion, are most interested in material that seem relevant to what they want to do in life. Adolescents and young adults, won’t settle until we recognise their unique identity. Nonetheless, how can any student in an educational system in 2008 not know of the CERN accelerator, the Obama election and the credit crunch? That is the modern day equivalent of switching off the radio as Armstrong landed on the moon, when Martin Luther King spoke and or Sam Miller sold Trademe for 200 million pounds (you didn’t know that one!) We need to be able pick up events of the day and bring them into our courses and to do that, teachers need time to follow events and time to redesign their classes.
- Time spent on cutting edge ideas. In seeming contradiction of the first point, students have a limited number of hours in their day and our textbooks are often old. It is bizzare to be teaching them procedures that are no longer used. Having said that, why don’t we have an interactive museum that teaches them the history of work and business? Is it not reasonable that any examing authority, including every university, review its curriculum annually and account for what is taken out and put in? I believe these curricula should be public and available for any one to inspect and comment on the internet.
- Quantitative skills. When we were students we studied statistics but only a small percentage of students can actually use the skills they were taught. Workers on the Toyota assembly line use means, standard deviations and t-tests as part of their daily work. Herein lies the call for more rigour in our education system. We must use the skills we teach and if we think it is beyond us, we need to convey deep respect for those who do.
So those are my three issues, none of which are so difficult to implement. They require no capital and no retraining – just leadership.
My optimistic view of the future
As we move towards networked organizations such as we see at Boeing and Best Buy, our graduates will be mapping out complex supply networks, resolving performance problems at source using sophisticated analyses, and proposing solutions to diverse audiences all of whom are experts in their own right. Students do get this experience working on non-educational projects on the internet. It is time for us to bring this activity into the classroom too.
I am generally optimistic. My expectation is that within a year or so, graduates will be routinely presenting a portfolio of work on the internet. Alex Deschamps-Sonsino, London based interaction designer is an example. Daryl Tay, young Singaporean social media evangelist, is another. Students might also show off wikis and multimedia project via links or pages.
I think the young people of today are up to it and it is they who might drive the development of more rigorous education!
So what is your view? Do you believe that our education system is better than in your day, and what are the key issues that need to be addressed to “allow our workers to compete with workers anywhere in the world”?