Why Today’s Education System is Failing Our Children

Carolina Milanesi / March 15th, 2017

Schools are supposed to develop skills and capabilities while encouraging kids to “think differently” and maximize their abilities. Sadly, most schools are failing to do so today. The reasons rest within curricula that are not keeping up with the pace of change our world is undergoing, teachers set in their ways with little support to embrace change, and technology thrown in for good measure often without a clear purpose. In other words, schools continue to operate on fulfilling the needs of an Industrial Age student rather than preparing students for the Information Age.

Some look at the layout of an average classroom used today and argue that education has changed a lot. They go as far as to say the entrenched teacher-centered methods have become a hybrid one that incorporates a student-centered approach. While this is true, the change towards this hybrid approach might relate more to the need to deal with a larger number of students in one class than a real change towards fostering collaboration and critical thinking among students.

The World Economic Forum produced a report in early January called:“The Future of Jobs”. The report looks at what the employment landscape will look like in 2020. After talking to chief human resources and strategy officers from leading global employers, the authors listed the top 10 skills for 2020 and compared them to what was required in 2015:

By the time my third grader will be looking for a job, the change will be even more dramatic. She will have to be ready for what the World Economic Forum calls the “Forth Industrial Revolution that is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres”.

Technology: Friend or Foe?

One cannot talk about how education is changing without assessing the role technology should have in the classroom. Some blame technology, and often the parents in particular who act as facilitators for empowering children (especially in K-12) with knowledge. Apparently, having kids learn through apps puts teachers at a disadvantage in the classroom because they are now faced with students who show different levels of knowledge and skills. It also puts pressure on teachers to rely more on technology, not something many necessarily feel comfortable with. As you can sense from my tone, I don’t think this is a bad thing. I am sure that, to some extent, this is a similar effect TV had on my generation or libraries and newspapers with previous generations. The big difference today is it’s not just about acquiring knowledge. It is about learning in a different way which, I would argue, does put pressure on teachers. Pressure to relate to children in a different way. The same pressure many employers are facing as Millennials, and Gen Z after them, join the workforce.

The main reason why technology creates a challenge is that schools are focused on standardization, not customization. From teaching to tests, schools today are about students fitting a mold and falling within pre-determined parameters that leave little room for individuality, let alone creativity and critical thinking.

Ironically, technology could empower teachers to embrace customization by allowing for a more tailored teaching approach. Children would be able to work more at their own pace, allowing students who are underperforming to focus on improving while letting students who are more advanced to be challenged, resulting in a more engaged class overall.

Adding Devices is not the Same as Integrating Technology

Today, however, most schools use technology, not to transform teaching, but rather to fit around traditional teaching methods, and in most cases, substitute what used to be done on a piece of paper.

Good or bad, children are learning in a very different way today. Children who have access to technology and games such as Minecraft learn a new kind of creativity, one that has no physical limits. If you spend a few minutes talking to your Minecraft-obsessed child (like mine), you can see these pixelated worlds teach them about different materials, food, resource management, project planning, teamwork (if they use multiplayer), problem-solving, responsibility, and accountability for their animals. A whole host of YouTube program–like Mineflix–is also teaching kids how they can learn and express themselves through storytelling which plays a huge role in modern gaming. Children learn more about their world and their building options and try it out themselves. The virtual manipulation Minecraft allows is like Lego creativity on steroids. I am clearly not alone in believing there is something in Minecraft that benefits education. Microsoft created the Minecraft Education Edition and teachers who have used it speak of higher engagement, collaboration, experimentation and a greater sense of accomplishment.

Embracing tools like Minecraft Education Edition can pivot the learning environment from teacher-centered to student-centered, where students not only teach other students but they can help teachers learn. These new methods can help the transition from a textbook-driven method to a research-driven one, from passive learning to active learning, from a fragmented curriculum to an integrated and interdisciplinary one, much like the skills the workplace will require.

There is so much transformational tech coming that I fear schools will miss out if they do not start thinking about integrating it now. Augmented and virtual reality are at the top of the list for how impactful they could make learning science, geography or even history lessons.

Tech, of course, is not just about learning per se but about data analytics as well. Being able to analyze data in real time will have a tremendous effect on teaching methods and help with change. Think about how powerful it is to have insights about students, especially the ones that are “at risk,” so you can actively adapt your planning and teaching activities. For students, the ability to measure their progress with their personal goals would also be motivational and engaging.

Preparing Our Children for an AI-Driven World

Technology is actively transforming the world today and will continue to do so whether schools are ready for it or not. As artificial intelligence grows in importance for tech companies around the world, our education system should focus on giving our children the skills they need to have a successful career when they grow up. This starts with acknowledging the skill sets my generation were taught (and served me well) are no longer critical for my daughter. Critical thinking and problem-solving are the first steps towards coding. Learning how to communicate effectively is at the center of successful collaboration and leadership.

The reason schools are important in this process is unless education takes on the accountability to integrate technology and prepare our children for their future, the divide we see today between classes will only widen.

I am worried about the prospects my child will have in the future, and I am one of the lucky parents who can afford to provide technology to my child. I am a concerned parent in the heart of Silicon Valley with a third grader who is attending a private school. If I am concerned and I live in the bubble, what is it like for children across the country?

At nine years old, she has her own iPad, and a Windows 2-in-1 and has been fortunate enough to have tried VR and new devices such as Amazon Echo that teach her to interact with different computing devices using her voice. I am well aware I am the exception, and when you look at how technology is distributed today, it is anything but an equal opportunity. Tablet penetration is still limited for the most part to households with $100,000 incomes and up. Smartphones are, for many Hispanic and Black Americans, the only way to access the internet due to lack of broadband access in their home.

Schools must close the technology gap, and they need to do so in a meaningful way, not just using tablets and Chromebooks as an alternative to a book or as a time filler. Of course, schools are not going to be able to do that on their own. Funds are needed for acquiring the technology and maintaining it. More importantly, funds and support are needed to allow teachers to learn. A complex process I realize, but one we cannot postpone.

Carolina Milanesi

Carolina is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc. She focuses on consumer tech across the board. From hardware to services she analyses today to help predict and shape tomorrow. In her prior role as Chief of Research at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech she drove thought leadership research. Prior to her ComTech role, Carolina spent 14 years at Gartner, most recently as their Consumer Devices Research VP and Agenda Manager. In this role she lead the forecast and market share teams on smartphones, tablets and PCs.
  • Glaurung-Quena

    “parameters that leave little room for individuality, let alone creativity and critical thinking.”

    You seem to be suffering from a misapprehension that school is about teaching critical thinking skills. The purpose of public schools is and has always been to turn children into good little workers who have the ability to sit still and do boring repetitive tasks for hours at a stretch, and who will obey meaningless orders unquestioningly. Education and thinking skills are just pretty packaging to cover up the unpalatable core purpose of the institution.

    • obarthelemy

      I distinctly remember my high-school freshman French teacher (not even Philosophy, just French) telling us that critical thinking is the most valuable skill of all. Depending on what level of schooling we’re talking about, I’d argue that rote learning of the 3Rs + discipline (both decorum and self-) isn’t an obviously bad thing ?

      • carolina milanesi

        discipline certainly is not I agree but busy work is in my view – doing 100 times the same thing. there is a lot of that with my daughter

    • carolina milanesi

      I am saying it should be about critical thinking cause otherwise our kids won’t have a job. the good little worker approach worked for my generation but that is not where we are. And yes my view of education might be utopia but we need to start somewhere

  • obarthelemy

    I’m always a bit leery when hearing that tech is the main issue about anything. Especially education. Is there any reliable study that shows technology having, dollar for dollar, more impact on learning, compared to a) do-nothing and b) spend the same amount of money on extra teachers/meals/books & tools ?

    • carolina milanesi

      I am not arguing that tech is the answer to all problems I am arguing that not including tech is a mistake. teaching my kid to type and use a mouse will do her no good by the time she goes to work. more teachers would be great but the cost of the teacher is nowhere near the cost of a one to one PC/iPad/Chromebook and with that the teacher has a tool. Sadly in most cases that is not the case and tech is no more than a babysitter or a book replacement which is a shame

      • jfutral

        Okay, but what will technology look like by the time your child is out of school? Can you realistically predict that? How much will it chnge between now and college, even? I think the notion of preparing students for technology for their post-academic lives is a fool’s errand. That is not to say technology can’t or shouldn’t be part of their education.

        But to me that is part of the problem with our thinking on education, that somehow education is about vocational training, whether we are talking factory or information. We shouldn’t be “training” our kids, we should be educating them. So I completely agree with the critical thinking aspect of your argument. I just wish that could be the primary focus of all students.

        Joe

        • carolina milanesi

          agree on critical thinking. I don’t think kids should be trained on tech – like u say God knows what kind of implants we will have in 10 years 🙂 there are however some skills that we know already today will not necessarily be needed going forward because technology would be taking over those skills. coding is the typing of the next generation yet most schools do not offer that and if they do it only comes in at middle school level. coding and problem solving go hand in hand and it is something that earlier grades could benefit from and are certainly capable of doing. Some of the thinking is driven by habit we teach them maths first then they can understand coding rather than through coding they will be learning maths
          I appreciate the dialogue BTW

          • Space Gorilla

            In our homeschooling adventure we’ve always focused on learning how to learn. We plugged into a distance learning system from our local school board for one semester with one kid, just to see if there was anything useful there. It was terrible, just a lot of repetitive work designed to meet a time requirement. Put in X hours on Y subject and you’re done. Useless, and surprisingly simple compared to what I assumed would be high school level curricula.

        • obarthelemy

          On the other hand, I got trained on Ashton-Tate’s Framework and dBase (III ?) when I started business school. The products quickly vanished, the underlying technology stayed, and my skills ended up mostly transferable.
          I think IT training and using IT for general education are 2 utterly different subjects. We should pick one ^^

          • jfutral

            Is that post grade school? I would imagine at that point, that kind of focused education is of more importance than in K-12. By then, one usually is training/learning for a particular career or job. but again, I doubt that was _all_ your were studying?

            Joe

          • obarthelemy

            Business School, equivalent to your College, at 20-ish yo. France finishes High School at 18, then you either go to a non-selective University or got 2 yrs of prep school to prepare the entry exams/competitions for a Grande Ecole in Business/engineering/civil service/…
            Framework and dBase were barely a footnote in my MBA curriculum… yet one of the more tangible and enduringly useful subjects… at least to me, not a fan of HR, accounting, and marcomm. Market research and economics were more my thing ;-p

      • obarthelemy

        Agreed, mindless busywork is a Bad Thing, whether IRL or on computers. But the cost of a PC (/iPad/Chromebook) is probably around $50/month: with $200 hardware over 10 months + monthly management fees ($30/PC IIRC for Google Management Suite) + insurance, maintenance, software…
        For a 20-pupils classroom, that’s $1k/mo. That’s probably enough money for proctored study halls, meals were pizza isn’t a veggie, emergency school supplies… I can’t help but think those (or other stuff) would be more effective than PCs at raising the bar.
        What struck me when I started to reach the level of education where pupils are filtered by success/ability is that almost all my classmates were from either middle-class or public servants family, in an industrial area with lots of blue collar and immigrants. Were do the kids of those go ? I think the main issue is to boost the less-favored kids, not to spend even more on already-privileged ones. My sister who teaches 6yo has horror stories of kids studying in the toilet because it’s the only calm and safe room in the house, etc… and she’s not working in the projects…

  • klahanas

    I’ll let George Carlin discuss this.

    Not safe for work. The truth often isn’t.

    Education comments start at about the 40 second mark.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILQepXUhJ98

  • Space Gorilla

    I’m not sure public education can be fixed. High quality tailored education just doesn’t scale well. None of my kids have been in school, we’ve homeschooled all four from the start, and now they’re exceptional teenagers, quite different from their peers in school. I do think most kids could do a lot better education-wise, but the school system isn’t capable of delivering superior education, nor is that its primary purpose (as Glaurung-Quena has already pointed out). I also think it is a huge problem that kids go through school with a group of same age peers. Mixed age groups are much better for many reasons, but imagine trying to implement that in the public school system, it isn’t practical.

    • carolina milanesi

      I know that public education is a long way of being able to deliver on customized education but even private does not seem to be that much better. we spend a lot of extra time with our daughter. We thought of homeschool but she is such a social title thing that I am not sure she will benefit from homeschool on a personal level. She gets more out of an hour done at home than 8 hours in school. Interesting that you mention different ages as the school has a family group period where kids of all grades come together and she loves that cause she gets to learn from the older children.

      • Space Gorilla

        The social myth re: homeschooling is exactly that, a myth. Our kids are involved in so much stuff with people of all ages. There’s lots of data on homeschooling being far better for socialization of kids, it’s a more complex sophisticated model.

        Kids in school learn how to be human from a very small group of same age peers. Homeschooled kids tend to be involved in the community much more, and make friends in a wide age range, as well as interacting with people much younger than they are and people much older. That said, a homeschooled kid who spends all their time alone in their own house, yeah, that’s not a great model. But that isn’t what modern homeschooling is, not at all.

        I highly recommend homeschooling, but it isn’t for everyone, it’s a lot of work and you’re giving up one income to do it right. But the benefits are numerous.

        You’re correct that private schools don’t do much better, but they are generally structured much like the public system because they do have to scale as well.

        Good to hear your school has a family group, that’s a great model.

        • carolina milanesi

          Actually the point about engaging with different age groups is a very good point you make. And BTW I do not have in my head that homeschool kids are locked in the house all the time 🙂 We have been here 5 years this month and most of the contacts we have made are either through work or school. Our kid does Karate but even there there are kids from school the same with baseball. I suppose that made me feel like taking her out of school will take all of that away but in reality it does not have to be. You gave me something to think about although clearly I won’t be the one teaching cause I have no patience whatsoever LOL I used to teach Italian many years ago when I moved to the UK and only one year I thought middle school kids and I aged like 10 years!

          • Space Gorilla

            My wife is a teacher, and does a bit of subbing here and there. It drives her nuts the make work stuff school kids are doing. But a public school system is a horribly large beast, I’m not sure it can ever be any better than it is. It has to be a factory just to function.

            We do a lot of self-directed projects with our kids. It is not school at home, since that doesn’t teach the kids how to get things done on their own and how to learn on their own.

            An interesting benefit is their sleep schedule, they don’t get up until 10 am, no need to. I’ve had people ask me “Well, how are they going to get up early when they have a job?” What a dumb question, nobody needs to take a class on setting an alarm. When they need to get up early they do. It’s quite simple.

          • jfutral

            Homeschooling is a life style! Not for the faint of heart. When my daughter was in school, she had three distinct groups of friends—school, church, dance. There was surprisingly little overlap. That gave her three social circles she could navigate if one group gave her particular issues (that’s a good story, but not tech related). She could take a time out from one and focus on the other two. Sometimes it isn’t about social interaction, but what kind of social interaction.

            Joe

  • jfutral

    (All my opinion here, so worth what you paid, probably less if time reading takes you away “from making money)

    You kind of highlight the problem in a couple of ways. Education is one of those things that we all have an opinion on because we all have gone through it, we have experienced it first hand in some form or another. Which kind of illustrates a recent book and interview on NPR on the death of expertise. http://one.npr.org/?sharedMediaId=520004644:520004647

    I agree with Steve Jobs here that technology cannot solve education. It is a political/sociopolitical problem. It is easy to say the issue is integrating technology into the classroom when everything else about education is not a problem. But in many schools across the country in order to teach their students, teachers also have to take on the role of parent, therapist, and social worker before they even get to teaching. At that point technology is the least of their concerns.

    You point out part of the problem, but take it a different direction: “teachers… with little support” but constant criticism.

    I agree that the problem is systemic. But I don’t think technology is the solution. It is great that there are some schools who can argue about technology. It would be even better if all schools were at that point.

    Joe

  • davebarnes

    Bad Headline.
    Should “Why Today’s Education System are Failing Our Childrens”.
    Just ask George Bush.

  • John

    Hang out with teenagers and you will see that our youths are not starved of technology and lack no savvy when it comes to it.

    You and I were both brought up in times that didn’t anticipate our current technological reality and we did just fine. Humans are infinitely adaptable.

    If you want to point to problems, point at homes that produce children who don’t know how to work, who don’t feel secure in relationships with parents and who have no hope of a bright future because their present is so glum. Teachers spend more time as therapists and babysitters than they do as instructors.

  • dmx

    But don’t they need a good solid foundation on math, language arts, physics, chemistry, and bio etc to advance to more advanced stuff?

  • GregFromOz

    As a recently retired teacher (4-13 year olds) in Australia I am a bit dispairing of our ed system. I am an Apple ADE and have been involved in attempting to bend technology to support and enhance the education and growth of children’s learning. From TV and video tech through C64’s and Apples iPods and iPads and laptops, the internet (from 1994!), developing computer networks that support the demands of increasing numbers of devices – often with free/donated/cheap equipment. Our (my) department raves about developing the whole child, focussing on the development as a PRIORITY all those 2020 attributes and then focuses teacher and parent attention on a range of standardised tests that maybe show what children could do on a particular day with a limited number of questions that statistically give a number used to compare students and schools and increasingly, the teacher. In Reading, Writing and Numeracy. Apparently all other aspects of a liberal education count for nought.

    As a result, teachers increasingly teach to the test, resources for Arts programmes are diminished, libraries are stripped of librarians (because they apprently run themselves and all teachers instinctively know how to maximise the use of a library). Etc, etc, etc.

    It may only be a local problem, but great deal of so called leadership is being outsourced to people who have never been a teacher in a school or who have been teachers and managed to get out of face to face teaching just as soon as they could.

    I am not sure what the answer is as Education has been corporatised and teachers and students have been disempowered. Principals are now judged on the metric of whole school scores.

    I don’t have a high opinion of home school. Examples I have seen haven’t been great. Ditto for private schools. Even with their generally huge resourcing advantage.

    I sound rather gloomy, but I have seen so many great inspirational teachers who live for their kids and so much more than just turn up. As often is, resistance and revolution have to come from the shop floor.

    It is not coming from the top that is for certain.

    • Space Gorilla

      “I don’t have a high opinion of home school. Examples I have seen haven’t been great.”

      I’d be interested in what examples you’ve seen that formed your opinion. There’s a lot of data on homeschooling, it’s clear that the social and academic outcomes are superior. There are always exceptions of course, homeschooling driven by religious intolerance tends not to be great (parents who want to teach their kids that the earth is 6,000 years old, and so on).

      • aardman

        Home school is as good or bad as the parent who administers it. The thing is, home schooling is not a viable solution to the problem of properly educating all the nation’s school age kids. I assume the reasons are fairly obvious.

        • Space Gorilla

          Taken as a whole, the data is clear that homeschooling provides better social and academic outcomes. Even parents that didn’t finish high school have better academic outcomes with their homeschooled kids, even better than private school.

          But of course you’re right that there are examples of homeschooling having poor outcomes. Those poor outcomes seem to be the general public’s idea of homeschooling, which is a shame. You wouldn’t believe the dumb questions I get asked about homeschooling my kids.

          I agree it isn’t a practical solution for educating everyone. Public school has to scale, and in order to do so it has to be structured in ways that are not ideal. And imagine a society where every family had only one income and spent most of their time with their kids. Crazy!

  • aardman

    What schools need to do first and foremost, and this has been true forever, is to get kids to learn how to learn on their own. That means a solid grounding in the basics (yes, it’s still the three Rs), and critical thinking skills (which requires a balanced exposure to the sciences and the arts and humanities because how do you learn how to think if you don’t have anything complex to think about?).

    I’m not an advocate of “we have to expose them to the latest technology as early as kindergarten”. That’s a waste of time. You can delay that ’til later; better use the time on the stuff I outlined above. It’s amazing how quickly kids can catch-up on the other stuff once they’ve learned how to learn on their own.

    Finally, what is the sine qua non for a successful school? Not the latest computers, not the shiniest buildings, not the most eye-popping sports facilities. Great teachers. Intelligent, well-trained, inspired teachers. Teachers who know their subjects inside-out and are genuinely interested in them. Teachers who want to be teachers. I’d rather that education funds were used to find, train, and pay great teachers rather than to purchase shiny objects.

  • aardman

    “At nine years old, she has her own iPad, and a Windows 2-in-1 and has been fortunate enough to have tried VR and new devices such as Amazon Echo that teach her to interact with different computing devices using her voice.”

    You really think your daughter’s education, her intellectual growth, is greatly enhanced because she is exposed to these devices at 9, rather than say, at 13? How edifying is it to learn how to work your way through a tablet’s operating system, or how to talk to a pseudo-intelligent squawk box? My concern actually is that with unsupervised use of these items, kids could easily fall into the trap of relying on these devices to do the thinking for them. Especially given the rapid pace of development in AI systems.

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