Monday, May 7, 2012

It's not what you know ...

Create Color by Jonah G.S., on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  Jonah G.S.

I've just read a highly quotable article in Forbes, It's yet another in a long line of "what's wrong with education today" articles but for me this one really sums up the fundamental issue. The article reports on a presentation by Harvard Innovation Education Fellow Tony Wagner, Creating Innovators: Why America's Education System Is Obsolete, where he focuses on the need for schools to produce entrepreneurs and innovators. In a world where information is everywhere, a school's value is no longer in the information and knowledge it has assembled but on the teachers' ability to inspire, create context and guide.

“Today knowledge is ubiquitous, constantly changing, growing exponentially… Today knowledge is free. It’s like air, it’s like water. It’s become a commodity… There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you. The world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know.”

Wagner sees a number of reasons why schools aren't producing the innovators and entrepreneurs:
  • schools focus on individual achievement rather than teamwork
  • learning is specialized instead of being interdisciplinary
  • risk aversion is the norm
  • learning is mostly a passive activity
  • learning is driven by external motivators (eg grades) instead of internal ones
Basically the present school system is not geared to generating innovative thinkers and problem solvers because the model is still that of the educational production line. The article's main point is that we need to rethink education to be able to produce a new type of society where innovation and cooperation are fostered rather than a competition and individual achievement. Notice there's no mention of technology. It's not the technology that is important but technology can enable us to create a new type of learning environment where innovation and cooperation are encouraged. We need to focus on greater goals than simply filling the classroom with devices.

Wagner is not suggesting we change a few processes and update a few manuals. He says, “The system has become obsolete. It needs reinventing, not reforming.”

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