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Education as Our National Currency

July 4, 2012 2 comments

What do Taiwan, South Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, Israel and Japan have in common with each other?

They have no oil, diamonds, gold, or other valuable natural resources. As the Bible tells us Moses led his people through the desert for 40 years to bring them to the only piece of real estate in the Middle East that has no oil.  The foreign countries with the most companies listed on the NASDAQ are Israel, China/Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, South Korea and Singapore, none of which can live off natural resources.

Now what does this have to do with education?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published an interesting study which maps the correlation between performance on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam. Every two years PISA tests math, science and reading comprehension skills of 15-year-olds in 65 countries and at the same time they correlate the total earnings on natural resources as a percentage of G.D.P. for each participating country.  How well do your high school kids do in science compared with how much oil you pump or how many diamonds you dig?

The results indicated there is “a significant negative relationship between the money countries extract from national resources and the knowledge and skills of their high school population,” said Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the PISA exams for the O.E.C.D. “This is a global pattern that holds across 65 countries that took part in the latest PISA assessment.” Oil, diamonds, gold and student success and achievement don’t mix.

The latest PISA results reveal that students in Singapore, Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan stand out as having high PISA scores and few natural resources. Qatar and Kazakhstan stand out as having the highest oil rents and the lowest PISA scores. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran and Syria stood out the same way in a similar 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Students from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, which are Middle East states with few natural resources, scored better. Also lagging in recent PISA scores were students in many of the resource-rich countries of Latin America; Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. Africa was not tested.

What these numbers say is that if you really want to know how a country is going to do in the 21st century, don’t count its oil reserves or gold mines, count its highly effective teachers, involved parents and committed students. Schleicher states, “Today’s learning outcomes at school are a powerful predictor for the wealth and social outcomes that countries will reap in the long run.” Societies addicted to their natural resources seem to develop parents and young people who lose their important  basic instincts, habits and incentives for academic success.

Schleicher further concludes, “in countries with little in the way of natural resources — Finland, Singapore or Japan — education has strong outcomes and a high status, at least in part because the public at large has understood that the country must live by its knowledge and skills and that these depend on the quality of education. … Every parent and child in these countries knows that skills will decide the life chances of the child and nothing else is going to rescue them, so they build a whole culture and education system around it.” Teachers are held in high regard and are not unionized, parents are very involved and participate in their local schools, and children are expected to excel, no excuses accepted.

Knowledge and skills have become the global currency in this century. It is currency we can’t print. It begins with parents in the home who are determined their children will have every opportunity they can avail themselves to in order to succeed. This knowledge currency is propagated by highly effective teachers who are turned loose to innovate in their classrooms, free from administrators, unions, and regulations. It carries on with committed students who developed habits and a strong desire to learn aided by the guidance of their parents and teachers.

This is the only currency, an educated, competitive population, that will renew itself when all the oil wells, diamond mines and gold are gone from the ground.

Education, Lateral Thinking and the Google Ngram Viewer

June 23, 2011 1 comment

How many books are there in the world?

The answer: 129,864,880 books, more or less.

Google is, of course, in the process of digitizing many of the world’s books. Since 2004, Google has digitized more than 15 million books worldwide. The datasets they are making available today to further humanities research, for example, are based on a subset of that corpus, weighing in at 500 billion words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish. The datasets contain phrases of up to five words with counts of how often they occurred in each year.

The Ngram Viewer lets you graph and compare phrases from these datasets over time, showing how their usage has waxed and waned over the years. One of the advantages of having data online is that it lowers the barrier to chance: you can stumble across something in these 500 billion words and be the first person ever to make that discovery.

I went to the Ngram to prove to myself that Lateral Thinking is a relatively new concept in our educational thinking. Here is what happened to Lateral Thinking between 1900 and 2000.

Lateral Thinking from 1900 to 2000

You will see that Lateral Thinking was flat lined from 1900 until about 1965. In 1965,  which was the height of the Vietnam war and the protests associated with it, Lateral Thinking spiked from 0% to 100%  until about 1973. These years thrust forward a massive burst of intellectual lateral energy. It then took a huge downward spike beginning in about 1973 when the Vietnam War officially ended. Lateral Thinking hit bottom in 1975 (war ended, protests over, back to what was customary). It then began a gradual ascent in about 1976 with a slow climb though the 80’s and 90’s and then between 2000 and 2010 it shot up vertically to 100%. These years were responsible for the serious advent of public use of the internet and the beginning of the social media revolution; Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Groupon, EBay, Craig’s List, Priceline, You Tube, Firefox, WordPress, and more than I have  time to write.

Most of this Lateral energy flourished and bloomed outside our public educational institutions. These institutions and educators did not change with the advent of this energy. As a matter of fact, educators and education functioned more as obstacles than facilitators, except in a very few isolated instances. Many continue to teach with chalk, blackboards, and outdated textbooks while their students are speaking a different language and operating in a virtual world outside their classrooms.

This generation of young entrepreneurs and start ups have invented Lateral concepts that are changing our world; the way we shop, the way we communicate, the way we bank, the way we pay our bills, the way we travel, the way we apply for jobs, the way we sell our possessions! These Lateral thinkers are on their way to horizons we have not yet imagined. They are creating a new world and leaving our industrial educational institutions in the dust of the chalk falling off their blackboards.

Education in America; Wisconsin – The Real Story

February 23, 2011 5 comments

Here’s what we know that will make our schools better:

1.    Improve the quality of teaching.
2.    Personalize the educational experience of children to meet diverse needs and interests.
3.    Treat schools as unique, organic communities, not standard same-for-all institutions.

What do we have?

1.    We have “No Child Left Behind” that places enormous importance on standardizing instead of a more personal, organic, and creative experience for each child.
2.    We have president Obama’s recent State of the Union speech emphasizing that the only disciplines of importance are math and science. This message tells our children that if they are not good at either one of these subjects they are not smart and they will probably not be as successful as those who are accomplished in math and science.
3.    We continue to believe that if everyone is good at math and science, we’ll be fine. Meanwhile, creativity, innovation, lateral thinking, and the treasures all our children house in their minds are wasted as we are commanded to focus on math and science.
4.    The entire model for our education system is built on Industrial Age beliefs regarding supply and demand. This no longer holds true. The rapid acceleration of technology, population growth, and the shifting of power throughout the world make it impossible to predict what our society and economy will have even 2 years from now.

Here is what is true:

1.    Education is extremely personal. Everyone is unique and different in their interests, talents, and learning styles.
2.    Human talents are buried deep within us and teachers must be adept at identifying and nurturing our children’s aptitudes.
3.    It will take more than competency in Math and Science for America to prosper and grow in the future.
4.    It is NOT about money!

Now let’s look at money and what it has accomplished in Wisconsin, since it is in the news for leading the charge in education:

1.    Wisconsin’s per pupil spending on public school students increased from $6,517 in 1996 to $10,791 in 2008.
2.    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator the $6,517 that Wisconsin spent per pupil in 1996 dollars equaled $8,942 in 2008 dollars. That means that from 1996 to 2008, Wisconsin public schools increased their per pupil spending by $1,849 or 20.7% in real terms while adding only one percentage point to their average eighth grader’s math score. (Terence P. Jeffrey)
3.    The $10,791 that Wisconsin spent per pupil in its public elementary and secondary schools in fiscal year 2008 was more than any other state in the Midwest.
4.    In the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests administered by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009, the latest year available, only 31% of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned a “proficient” rating while another 8% earned an “advanced” rating.
5.    The other 61 % of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned ratings below “proficient,” including 40% who earned a rating of “basic” and 21% who earned a rating of “below basic”.
6.    The NAEP tests also showed that the mathematics test scores of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders have remained almost flat since 1996 while inflation adjusted per-pupil spending had significantly increased.
7.    In fiscal 2008, the federal government provided $669.6 million in subsidies to the public schools in Wisconsin.

I don’t mind paying teachers what they are worth. I don’t mind paying them for results, but NOT these results! If Wisconsin teachers, their unions, and teachers all across our country call the above statistics “Results” then they have lost their way.

We have placed our most precious treasures, our children, in the hands of impostors who cannot deliver. They are stealing the nation’s future. We are doomed. They cannot produce. They cannot be fired. They have TENURE, a job for life. The laugh is on us; we pay their salaries with our property taxes. They take our money and dull the minds of our children.

It is easier to get rid of a Predator Priest than it is to fire an Incompetent Teacher.

Education; The Disenthrallment of the Quiet Past

February 9, 2011 3 comments

I was reading an article on manufacturing in America in the Wall Street Journal by Matt Ridley. It discussed the idea of “Disenthrallment”. In Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 message to Congress he speaks of disenthralling ourselves of “the dogmas of the quiet past” in order to “think anew.”

This idea of “Disenthralling”, great word, ourselves to think anew is exactly what drives me in these posts on family, parenting, and education. The first of these enthralled bad habits, Vertical or Linear thinking, must be disenthralled if we are to move forward and pull ahead into the new future think, which is Here! Now! This “dogma of the quiet past” is destroying creativity in our schools all over the country. Sir Ken Robinson believes, “Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.” The development of creative thinkers who contribute creative ideas to our society should be the mantra in our schools.

We are in transition in our educational systems and, like present day Egypt, transitions are painful and tumultuous. They are filled with uncertainty and unknowns. Because we are enthralled to a world that is passing we are threatened and cling to our certainties. Our schools teach to avoid uncertainty. We teach to memorize the answers to the questions, and if the grades are high enough on the tests we get to go the next level of memorizing. Then if we are successful in mastering these educational hurdles, we get to have a job and live happily ever after. This is an Industrial Age fairy tale!

The reality is that we are always on a path, never at a turning point, to use one of Ridley’s expressions. There is no resting place; no place to retire. We live in a dynamic, ever changing world where information flows at rates that are incomprehensible and there is no slowing down information exchange. Our schools and teachers need to disenthrall themselves from the ‘dogma of the quiet past’ and free their students from Rote memorization and challenge their creative thinking.  “Nothing endures but change”.

Hierarchies are on the way out; networks are Here Now. We must escape from top down thinking. We are in the midst of vibrant radical innovation, except in our schools, where all remains the same as before. We have done what we always do and now we are where we have always been.

People all over the world are online sharing, swapping, building, innovating and moving forward. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, SCVNGR, and Foursquare, to name a few, are burgeoning with creativity and vastly different from the days of Carnegie’s US Steel. Today’s New Age Internet Corporations need far less capital and fewer employees. The World is their marketplace and everyone who tunes in online has the ability to make valuable contributions.

In the future, corporations will begin to turn themselves into internet sites where collaboration replaces the board room. They will/are becoming fast changing networks of temporary collaboration which replaces the central authority of fixed plans. The New American worker is becoming as fluid as the information that surrounds him/her. These new workers will be changing jobs often. Since they accept there is no such thing as “security” they will not care to participate in the old Industrial Age promises of Social Security, Medicare, Pensions, Health Insurance, and other political traps. This hip generation already knows these political programs are illusions and will not function in their futures. It’s like chasing rainbows.

If we don’t change the educational system to run with this savvy generation, they will go it alone. Many are already leaving the “System”. It does not fulfill their needs and many students see it as a propaganda dead end. Why would they believe or accept something that they know leads to NOWhere? Many extremely successful entrepreneurs have dropped out of Ivy League schools, i.e. Harvard’s Bill Gates of Microsoft, Princeton’s Seth Priebatsch of SCVNGR, Harvard’s Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, to name a few. Now, ask yourself, “Why did these guys and others opt out of our prestigious university system?” when so many would kill to get into them. I think it’s because the system is losing relevance in the age of dynamic information flow and exchange and where technology and its manipulation is the future. These men had an idea and the educational system could not accommodate it. They left.

We have a serious drop out problem in this country, which is crippling industry because unskilled workers are what we graduate. Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe writes, “Americans make more ‘stuff’ than any other nation on earth, and by a wide margin. According to the United Nations’ comprehensive database of international economic data, America’s manufacturing output in 2009 (expressed in constant 2005 dollars) was $2.15 trillion. That surpassed China’s output of $1.48 trillion by nearly 46 percent. China’s industries may be booming, but the United States still accounted for 20 percent of the world’s manufacturing output in 2009 — only a hair below its 1990 share of 21 percent.”

How is this possible? It’s because we don’t make ‘stuff’ any more, the ‘stuff’ that you see in Wal-Mart, Target, or other big box stores. We manufacture fighter jets and sophisticated medical equipment, automobiles and pharmaceuticals, industrial lathes and semiconductors, not easily found on your weekly shopping list. This shift in manufacturing requires technological skills because most of it is robotic. Our future workers need to know how to operate complicated machinery that has a brain of sorts. They need to be able to think, diagnose, and solve problems. They need to be Lateral thinkers and technologically skilled. They do not need to be numbed down by Rote, Vertical, Linear thinking of the ‘quiet past’.

Young savvy men and women are dropping out of schools because the schools are irrelevant.

“Genius means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.”

William James

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