It’s time to bail out our schools, not our firms

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

Business Times, February 27, 2014

A myriad of industries, social systems, and services are ready for the 21st century. Across the world, billions of dollars have been spent by governments and countless businesses preparing for a landscape dominated by exponentially expanding technological capabilities, keeping themselves constantly at the ready in this rapidly changing climate.

But what about the population who will inhabit this future we’re preparing for? The countless billions we’ve thrown into future-proofing our world will have been of no use if those who inherit it are not ready. The population I’m referring to is, of course, children, and I’m sad to report that we are not always succeeding at preparing our children for the 21st century.

This is because education is not ready for the 21st century.

A college graduate today could easily be applying for a job that didn’t exist when he entered university. A 10-year-old child may have aspirations to be a computer programmer, yet if the last few decades are any indication, the landscape he aspires to be a part of now will have changed almost beyond recognition by the time he reaches adulthood.

To keep our youth prepared for the new world they’re going to enter, we must do our best to focus on integrating that new world into their education system. Not only that, but we must be sure to integrate the new world into our children’s education as soon as possible. Technology and the modern world deserve a place in the classroom, despite the classroom’s stubborn fight against it for so many years.

A 25-year-old college graduate today will have entered school using computers incapable of accessing the Web and left it using a computer that may only need access to the Web to be useful. However, this graduate will have likely learned everything she knows about modern technology through interactions outside of school. This cannot be the case with the next generations.

The Internet and computing, along with modern science and mathematics education, should be the top priority for education systems across the world. Teachers should have access to resources that allow them to integrate technology into their lessons and figure out what works – like George Lucas’ Edutopia website – and most importantly, the schools themselves should have the resources to invest in cutting-edge technology.

Gone are the days when science and mathematics were solely the domains of the nerdy and the anti-social. Today, as science and math are reaching new plateaus of understanding, it is no longer acceptable for a child to not understand Evolutionary Theory, or to not have a basic understanding of how physics allows a computer to function.

But what about the applications themselves? A student can learn math and science all day long but not be able to apply those lessons to the new technologies of today. Basic computer programming, informatics and media literacy are just a sampling of topics that pre-university students today should be learning. With a basic understanding of these subjects and skillsets, a high-school graduate would have a significantly better foundation for the future than one might have just five years ago.

Luckily for teachers and administrators, integrating technology can actually make education more efficient, more effective and most importantly for the kids, more fun. Integrating the digital world with the educational world means children can more easily interact with students not only in their own classrooms, but also across the planet. With videocasting and instantaneous communications available at home and on mobile devices, we have a unique opportunity to bring the world’s students closer together.

Solving education is not something that will ever happen overnight, and the challenges are significantly different in the developing world than they are in the developed world. In the developing world, simply getting the most basic educational tools to students can prove to be difficult.

In wealthier nations, we have the privilege of being able to face our educational crisis head-on, yet many choose to focus on other arenas in world affairs.

In an economy like this, where nations hang on the brink of collapse there is only one truly unbeatable investment: education.

The rapid pace at which technology – and thus modern culture and business – changes is something that modern educational institutions have been failing to keep up with, and it is a problem that will only grow worse over time if it is not addressed. And it is not the administrators who have been failing, it is ourselves. We’ve spent the last decade bailing out our businesses and our governments, but now it is time to bail out our schools.

The writer is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global visions community