Education and career training are lifelong, dynamic processes as unique for each individual as his fingerprints. So then why is our educational system static, or structured as if there is a system of education and a path to employment that works for everyone? And why is that system, which attempts to prepare our children and workforce for a constantly fluctuating and dynamic economy, so inflexible?
Born in an age of industrialism, our current education model treats most students in exactly the same way. Children and young adults are placed on a single path, an assembly line that leads to a four year college. In this education factory, grades and standardized testing trump creativity and innovation. Children who don’t thrive in this mold and either can’t afford college or don’t want to go, are largely forgotten. And even those who make it to the end by graduating college aren’t necessarily well equipped, either for their own personal goals or for the needs of the modern economy. Generations of children are pushed towards the same end goal without much attention given to what happens once they get out, or to those who never go at all.
We desperately need an updated education system, a flexible model that better supports our students, and in turn supports the needs of an highly technological, complex, and skill based economy. Today, the needs of the market increasingly outpace the abilities and curricula of our education system, the infrastructure of which cannot respond at our economy’s rate of change. Businesses across the country, but perhaps most notably those in the energy, healthcare, and tech startup sectors are hungry for properly trained and skilled candidates. Many of these companies don’t need students with a four year bachelor degree but instead desperately seek highly skilled labor, skills that can be learned in half the time and for a fraction of the cost.
Community colleges and tech programs are already attempting to fill the workforce void by offering cheaper, non-degree courses that allow students to learn the skills that match the needs of local businesses and industries. In fact, community colleges and tech programs can be more hands-on and creative learning environments than their traditional counterparts. In many of these institutions, students actively engage in problem solving in a real world environment instead of passively absorbing information in schools that can sometimes be disconnected from the needs of their communities. By narrowing the gap between our education practices and the final possibilities of career paths, our education system could not only become more efficient, but we would also more completely integrate our schools and communities, allowing them to be living, breathing support systems for each other.
I’m not advocating for the end of four year colleges; for many of our students that path works wonderfully. But we do need to start fully respecting and developing access to other paths (and the students who wish to take them) that lead to careers just as lucrative and fulfilling, particularly since our economy demands it. Policy makers, innovators, tech leaders, and educators must all contribute their unique perspectives that can inform a new educational ecosystem that not only fills skill gaps in our economy, but also encourages engagement and fosters innovation at all levels, from the lower grades to the re-training of fertile minds later on in life.
But if our educational system is not open to disruption, change, and flexibility, our economic growth could suffer and “non-traditional” students will continue to be ignored while traditional students graduate college or even higher institutions without the skills to enter the workforce. If we will finally dismiss the ingrained notion that the best and most respected path to success and career preparation is a traditional college, we will more completely educate America’s youth and unlock the unique potential of our national workforce.