The Cloud is driving a much-needed revolution in education, with the opportunity for vastly superior educational opportunities at significantly reduced cost. Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) enable thousands of students located anywhere to have the benefit of a top-notch course taught by an expert with good communication skills at a low to zero price. The experience can actually be more intimate than that in a classroom of twenty students, as it appears that the instructor is talking just to each student. When coupled with one-on-one question/answer sessions and context- and result-driven on-line training, it can be a better learning experience than what is available in the traditional classroom.
While the course material has been updated, the process of education in the classroom has not changed in hundreds of years. Recent and continuing studies have shown that there are a variety of different ways people learn; the traditional classroom is, for most students, far from the best. The public education classroom model was developed in the U.S. largely to help the immigrant population learn English and U.S. history so they could quickly assimilate into the U.S. culture, take advantage of the American dream, and feel they were part of the nation. Especially up to the early 1900s, students who lived in rural areas had no transportation other than walking or riding a horse. That meant that schools had to be within a few miles of each student, and thus schools were small, often a single room with a single teacher covering several different grade levels. Student could advance at their own pace in each subject. The education each student received depended on three things: the willingness of the student to learn, the support of the parents, and the skill of the teacher.
In towns and cities, size forced education to adopt a different model: separate and larger schools for different groups of grade levels, and with public transportation the ability to draw students from a wider geography. As schools got bigger, they got more structured. Today, except for the bottom few and, less frequently, the top few, students are expected to move through a variety of subjects in lock step with all other students at the same age. Since we would not want to embarrass a student, we pass a student along with his cohort whether he actually learned everything or even anything in the school year. Children are not cars, and they cannot be effectively educated on an assembly line. While there are many excellent and dedicated teachers, there are also a lot who are neither dedicated nor even mediocre. Parents face increased time pressure just to provide for their family, and therefore parental support is often partially or completely lacking. School administrators and politicians impose requirements that are often ridiculous on teachers driving down the teachers’ morale and dedication. Perhaps worse, peer pressure and distractions make it difficult or even dangerous for a child to like school.
Many of these student distractions are driven by the Internet and the Cloud. Facebook, Twitter, texting, You-Tube, on-demand movies and TV shows are all more exciting than a classroom full of bored or disruptive children.
The growing dissatisfaction with the U.S. public school system has caused the growth of homeschool children to increase seven times faster than the public school growth. While only 4% of public school age children in the U.S. are currently homeschooled, if this level of growth continues, half of our children could be homeschooled in five years. There are lots of reasons why this probably won’t happen, but the cost of homeschooling will continue to drop (it is free in many states) and its quality and variety continue to increase. If it does happen, it will leave the public education system in shambles, much worse than many think it already is. In many places, homeschooled children can participate in separate sports leagues and other events, or participate in those at local schools thus providing the social interactions that were not available to homeschoolers just a few years ago.
The current economic situation is only exacerbating disaster. Colleges and universities continue to encourage students to take courses of study with almost zero chance of getting a job in the field. The practice of taking a year off between school and work to “see the world” has pretty much disappeared. It used to be an important part of the ideal education, but a very few families can afford that luxury today in terms of money and time. I think it is time to rethink why we send our kinds to college. Is it really worth the extra time and excessive cost to have the “university” experience of fraternities or sororities, football games and parties? There are other and more effective networking techniques today than the college fraternity. If the graduate can get a job, he or she has accumulated on average $26,600 in student loan debt (in 2011). The average starting salary for 2012 college graduates was $44,259. That level of debt is a huge financial burden on someone just starting out. It makes it difficult to buy a car, a house, or even consider starting a family. It adds to the stress of finding and keeping a job in the new “normal” of needing to frequently change jobs. The median tenure for workers age 25 to 34 is just 3.2 years. With a the median length of a job search at 16 weeks, each young graduate should have about a third of their annual salary set aside to help them ride out their next search effort. Plus, of course, they will probably have to pay for their own health insurance and should be working diligently on their retirement savings.
A good understanding of the field and some practical experience is important in landing that first job, but based on my experience hiring young software engineers, a college degree in programming is definitely not a sufficient requirement. Often the best candidates had a degree in some apparently unrelated field, or no degree at all. Some employers are reconsidering the need for that “degree?” check box.
Most hiring managers are only interested in three things:
- Can the candidate do the job?
Does the candidate have the necessary knowledge and skills for the tasks that need to get done?
- Will the candidate do the job?
Is the candidate really interested and hopefully excited about doing this job, or does he or she just consider it a stopgap position?
- Do we want the candidate to do the job?
Can we work with this person? Will the candidate fit into our culture?
A traditional college is only one path to “yes” on just the first question, and has little bearing on the other two.
The last word:
As parents, it is our responsibility to prepare our children for the “real” world. One way, of course, is to give your child a big enough trust fund that the “real” world becomes irrelevant. For the rest of us, that means giving your child the basic skills to get along, have a personal set of acceptable behaviors (what we sometimes call morals, religion, ethics, or culture), and a strong desire to learn. The world is changing quickly in all the areas that determine success as measured by satisfaction and happiness in life. The drive to learn is the only thing that will enable your child to adapt to these changes.
Keep your sense of humor.