flowing motion

5 signs our education system has got better

Posted on: November 16, 2008

Best Buy Store located in Shanghai, China


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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

  1. 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.
  2. Management science. They will have done some management science and be able do some basic process modelling with diagrams and excel spreadsheets.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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”?

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7 Responses to "5 signs our education system has got better"

Reading this post gave me a great start to the week, Jo.

I don’t have enough understanding of the current education system to qualify me to comment on the comparisons but I can comment on my own experiences. I had moderate exam success – the way that graduation from any academic institution is still measured. I wanted to study art – but was “persuaded” to focus on languages . Little wonder that I was disengaged. This added Russian to German in the early 1970s when visiting the then USSR was virtually impossible. Failed my Russian Higher. I loved history and would visit historic places of interest – got an A in my Higher. Simplistic explanation I know but I realised then – and have since – that if I can see the point and the potential for application of my learning I will engage in that learning.
Jump forward to today. I do a lot of work in schools – either coaching or teaching public speaking skills. The youngsters still sometimes tell me that they are taking part in my projects to get them out of “work” – but with some gentle questioning they realise that they have been working just as hard – just in a different way. And indeed all of them are challenged to catch up on the classwork they missed by being with me – so it is no easy option. One incident sticks in my mind. A young man who was in a group I was working with missed a meeting as he was on a work experience programme. Afterwards he came to tell me that he had approached it quite differently than he would have had he not experienced working with the project team and had learned a lot about himself.
I believe that by building in the ability to see how learning can be used – and the option of using that learning – into any system could make a difference.

Hi Jackie, Good to see you.

I think we agree that we should take young people’s time seriously. The 5 years they spend on university preparation and university is too valuable to waste!

Unfortunately it is being wasted for many. Graduates are increasingly finding that they would have been better off entering the world of employment earlier. I work for a major UK recruitment company, we place over 5000 adverts a year for all sorts of vacancies, in all of them employers are seeking experience not a degree.

2007 was the first good year for graduate employment rates for a very long time, the highest since Labour took power. Which sounds great, until you dig deeper and find that nearly one in seven students drop out before completing their courses. Some Universities have drop out rates approaching 60-70%.

It is my opinion that our present government is less concerned with the quality of our childrens education, and more concerned with where this education takes place.

Hello Andy

If those adverts were available, it could be a good student project to analyse them! Happy to organize it.

I would also be interested in any hard data on drop out rates. This is a topic that interests me a lot.

There was a BBC 4 programme on this topic today, actually!

Click to access 322.pdf

£800m and very little result, not great.

Regarding adverts, I’m sure you’ll understand that I can’t email you details of every vacancy we run. You should be able to garner a decent sample from generalist job boards and local newspapers.

Thanks so much for the link, Andy. I will read it with interest.

I stopped reading the article referencing improvements in education when reaching the egregious grammar error in its title.


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