How to Solve the Education Crisis
A research audio documentary of leading educators, entrepreneurs, and thinkers on innovative solutions for K-12 education.
Despite the transformation of our world in every context, education has not updated it's models to address the needs our current world. Education has failed to fulfill it's purpose in helping each student thrive individually and helping to better humanity as a collective. This article sources problems and solutions discovered during interviews with experts, leaders, and entrepreneurs in education on the Evolve podcast.
The traditional framework of schooling has multiple elements that are contributing to the scope of the problem: curriculum, isolated disciplines, focus on external motivators, division by age groups, and restrictive boundaries of formal institutions.
If the education crisis is not addressed, our society faces large consequences such as an $8.5 trillion dollar skills gap by 2030.
The education lies at the root of all other systems including but not limited to the economic system, the political system, the energy system, the transportation system, the legal system and the healthcare system
If we want to solve the education crisis, we must address other systems outside of education that influence it including all stakeholders, higher education, and money and resource allocation.
The building blocks for solutions include: connecting curriculum to real challenges, connecting curriculum to personal interests, developing the entire student, taking an interdisciplinary approach, online-learning, cultivating student relationships, engage learners in application of knowledge, and using competency based assessment.
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The dawn of the 21st century has proven to be a critical time in global transformation. Every context including social, technological, cultural, and ecological has rapidly changed. One can look no further than our global pandemic, raging wildfires, addictive social media, rates of depression or list of other trends in the last decade to see this transformation has not entirely been positive. Although history suggests that education plays a critical role in positively changing these world systems, it has not seen a substantial update since the indoctrination of the industrial model of education in the 20th century.
How can we possibly solve problems of today and tomorrow, if we are still developing human capabilities with the tools of yesterday? The rate of transformation and global problems has outpaced education's ability to fulfill it's purpose - to prepare students to address this transformation personally and collectively to positively push human progress forward. Many of the challenges our world faces are primarily educational in nature. If we address the education crisis, we can have hope for solving these other problems.
But how do we solve the education crisis? In this article we uncovered the outdated practices and systems keeping education from fulfilling its purpose and the building blocks that can be used to develop new models of education that will properly prepare students for solving our worlds most pressing problems.
THE PROBLEM: AN EDUCATION CRISIS
Our education system has reached the point of crisis because it has not been fulfilling its purpose. Education should be about helping each student thrive individually and helping to better humanity as a collective. Education's focus in the last decade, however, seems to be the anthesis of this goal. Victoria Ransom, co-founder of Prisma, stresses that education has focused to narrowly on traditional measures of success: good test scores or a schools rate for getting children into college. But she believes that education should be giving children the tools and mindsets they need to thrive in their adult lives. We can not wait to do this in college, we must start when their minds malleable at a young age. Raya Bidshahri, founder of the School of Humanity, likens the education system to the ideal of being a system for human development, flourishing, and collective human progress. Although many schools are mission driven, the fall short of this lofty goal because they are still operating within the confines of the traditional framework.
Education has also failed to help prepare students for the problems they face in this century, in their local communities, nations, or world at large. Zoe Weil, co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education, points out that the U.S. Department of Education's mission is to "promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness..." and even this goal is insufficient when this generation face problems like climate change or economic poverty on a global scale.
Personally, students have observed a loss of meaning, purpose, and connection to school. 75% of students, according to a recent Yale study, reported having negative feelings towards school. Raya believes this is occurring because students must prioritize exam results and traditional subjects, rather than being given the opprituntity to explore personal interests or passions in 21st century skills that are aligned with the needs of our world.
The traditional framework of schooling has multiple elements that are contributing to the scope of the problem: curriculum, isolated disciplines, focus on external motivators, division by age groups, and restrictive boundaries of formal institutions. Far from an exhaustive list, we will use this as a starting point to understand the education crisis.
Curriculum is still largely driven by the industrial model with a focus on rote memorization and knowledge recall. (Raya Bidshahri & Victoria Ransom)
Not putting emphasis on most in demand skills in the workforce. (Raya Bidshahri)
Not putting emphasis on key competencies to find oneself or meaning in life. (Raya Bidshahri)
Learning is abstracted and divided in separate subjects; however in the real world these disciplines are required to work together. (Raya Bidshahri & Carla Marshall)
Learning is isolated from how a particular knowledge set is applied in real world problems causing students to ask "Why am I learning this?" (Carla Marschall & Victoria Ransom)
Focus on External Motivators (Exams, Grades, Diplomas)
Learning is driven by external motivators like exams, grades, and diplomas which removes connection to internal motivation (Raya Bidshahri & Victoria Ransom)
Student's question how learning applies to them or their life (Zoe Weil & Victoria Ransom)
With stress and focus on external motivators there is a loss of curiosity or joy for learning (Raya Bidshahri & Victoria Ransom)
Division by Age Groups
Students are divided by age ranges rather than competency levels which results in students either falling behind or not being challenged enough appropriate for their abilities (Raya Bidshahri & Victoria Ransom)
Formal institutions remain the credit barer that certifies what is and is not education; not recognizing the vast amount of learning that happens outside traditional schooling. (Raya Bidshahri)
WHAT’S AT STAKE IF WE DON'T SOLVE THIS
If the education crisis is not addressed, our society faces large consequences because of how embedded our education system is in all other systems. During the interview with Raya, she mentions that we could face a $13 trillion dollar skills gap because students are ill prepared to meet the skill demands of the workforce. By 2030, a global shortage of skilled talent is projected to result in an $8.5 trillion loss in foregone annual revenues according to extensive new Korn Ferry report. But our economy is only but one complex system that education is interconnected with. Zoe Weil reminds us that education lies at the root of all other systems including but not limited to the economic system, the political system, the energy system, the transportation system, the legal system and the healthcare system. If we continue to neglect changing the education system, then we won't be able to give young people the skills they need in addressing some of the potentially calamitous problems that we're facing.
OTHER KEY CONSIDERATIONS
If we want to solve the education crisis, we must address other systems outside of education that influence it including all stakeholders, higher education, and money and resource allocation.
In order to create new models of education, each of the following stakeholders must be addressed: (Raya Bidshahri)
Parents & Families
Higher education stifles innovation in K-12 because it holds the entryway into careers by way of degree requirements for jobs. (Victoria Ransom)
Entry into a "good college" puts stress on kids to receive outstanding GPA's and take advanced placement courses. (Victoria Ransom)
Money Inequality and Resource Allocation
School districts receive varying levels of money and resources based on tax revenue for their given neighborhood. (Victoria Ransom)
Inefficient school systems cause resources to be used unwisely. (Vriti Saraf)
Individual poverty among students from low income families creates obstacles for students learning (Elizabeth Crawford)
Because the education system is one of the largest, oldest, and interconnected systems, one potential obstacle we will face in changing it is regulation.
Strict mandates at both the national and state level (Raya Bidshahri)
Regulations stifle individual teachers creativity for implementing or experimenting with innovative ways of teaching (Elizabeth Crawford & Vriti Saraf)
So, where does this leave us? How do we solve this problem? Well, I specifically interviewed each of these experts that you've heard today because they have some innovative solutions to the education crisis. The following list is comprised of building blocks that are pulled from these solutions that can be used to build new models of education. It’s hopefully obvious that no one solution will be the entire answer, and we’ll use some of everything, but we present each solution as model which can be imitated, allowing you to mix and match what will work best for your context.
Institute for Humane Education: Creating Solutionaries
Zoe Weil, Co-founder and President of the Institute for Humane Education, offers a roadmap for addressing the challenges we face by transforming how and what we teach in order to empower students, enliven the teaching profession, and help build thriving schools and communities. The Institute for Humane Education offers graduate programs, training, and resources for teachers and changemakers looking to create a more just, humane, and sustainable future by educating about the interconnected issues of human rights, environmental sustainability, and animal protection and building a society of solutionaries.
In the revised second edition of her book, The World Becomes What We Teach, she offers a vision along with practical ideas for re-imagining education, rooted in teaching students to be solutionaries who apply what they learn in the classroom to solve problems in their community and world.
The Office of Education in San Mateo County has made Zoe Weil's solutionary approach the philosophy and framework for their entire county that serves 113,000 students in 23 school districts. They’ve trained hundreds of teachers using Zoe Weil’s book The World Becomes What We Teach. These teachers have, in turn, created solutionary units for their classrooms. San Mateo County has also launched an annual Solutionary Fair, through which students have been sharing their solutions to problems they care about.
Carla Marschall & Elizabeth Crawford are the co-authors of Worldwise Learning, which presents a “Pedagogy for People, Planet, and Prosperity” that supports K-8 educators in nurturing “Worldwise Learners”: students who both deeply understand and purposefully act when learning about global challenges. The book features dozens of stories that spotlight Worldwise Learning in action from diverse student, teacher, and organization perspectives and an exemplar unit plan that illustrates how the planning process links to and can support teaching and learning about global challenges.
School of Humanity
Raya Bidshahri is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the School of Humanity, a revolutionary online high school with a progressive model and skill-based curriculum. School of Humanity uses interdisciplinary, personalized learning paths and constant query to create real-world connections and enable deeper understanding. Each learning path consists of workshops, mentorship sessions, and learning activities that are designed to imbue you with the competencies, mindsets, and behaviors you'll need to thrive in the world. Their unique curriculum is informed by the most in-demand skills in the emerging workforce, the catalysts for a meaningful life, and the requirements for human progress. According to Raya, one hundred percent of learners who participated in their part-time programs wish to continue full time.
Victoria Ransom is the Founder & CEO of Prisma, a Connected Learning Network; a whole new category in K-12 education and a replacement for traditional school. At the heart of their model are two things: (1) a small cohort of geographically co-located kids learning together with the support and guidance of a dedicated learning coach, and (2) a network of these cohorts spread around the world where kids can make friendships, work on projects, form clubs and share ideas. Their vision is that Prisma learners get the best of both worlds: the intimacy and support of a “one-room schoolhouse” (the cohort) and the breadth and diversity of the world’s largest kid-focused learning community (the network). The ability to learn from home and the use of technology and online tools enhance our model, but they are not the heart of our model. According to Victoria, one hundred percent of parents say that they'd seen significant growth from their kids across the outcomes addressed at Prisma. Additionally one hundred percent of Prisma kids have said they're happier at Prisma than they are in their previous school.
Vriti Saraf is the Founder & CEO of K20 Educators, the social learning community for global educators. k20 is creating an ecosystem and environment that will allow educators to learn from each other anytime they want. k20 was created to connect educators from around the world in order to realize our collective brilliance. k20 aims to be the largest networking, learning, and career hub for educators, with the most comprehensive directory of professional learning. They are enabling knowledge sharing to dismantle global silos in education.
SOLUTION BUILDING BLOCKS
1. Connect Curriculum to Real World Challenges
Students should be able to identify unsustainable, unjust and inhumane systems, and then devise solutions that do the most good and the least harm for everyone. (Zoe Weil)
Make challenges appropriate for age and cognitive abilities by limiting or widening scope of a challenge from local to global contexts (Carla Marschall)
Connect curriculum to the real world as much as possible or create scenarios that closely resemble real world problems (Victoria Ransom)
2. Connect Curriculum to Personal Interests
Students need help developing a compassionate disposition where they actually care about others and wanting to solve the problem. (Zoe Weil)
Connect issues that students care about to their lives, their passions and their concerns. (Elizabeth Crawford)
Create emotional connections to curriculum as student's immerse themselves in challenges through spending time in environments, perspective taking in interviews, or engaging in stories. (Carla Marschall)
3. Develop the Entire Student
In order to effectively create solutions, students need to develop critical thinking, systems thinking, strategic thinking, and creative thinking. (Zoe Weil, Carla Marschall)
Nurture a desire to better oneself and better the world (Raya Bidshahri)
Dedicate personal coaches for students to reflect on their learning and development (Victoria Ransom)
4. Take an Interdisciplinary Approach
Connect traditional disciplines like mathematical reasoning, scientific literacy or key communication skills, with equal emphasis on skills related to new emerging technology, proficiencies, morality, ethics, emotional intelligence, existential intelligence, or creative expression. (Raya Bidshahri)
Create interdisciplinary paths using global challenges, like the future of medicine, that require the combination of skills to understand and solve. (Raya Bidshahri)
5. Be Online First
Allow student to access learning material from anywhere in the world. (Raya Bidshahri & Victoria Ransom)
Provide community spaces for learners who are in the same location if they wish to have in person socialization. (Raya Bidshahri)
6. Cultivate Social Community and Relationships, Online and Off
Schools need to cultivate relationship building, forming friendships, & social interactions (Carla Marschall)
Create virtual spaces that encourage live interaction and engage learners (Raya Bidshahri & Vriti Saraf)
Create cohorts of students that engage through workshops, games, projects, & community events (Victoria Ransom)
7. Engage Learners in Application of Knowledge
Connect larger global issues with local issues in communities students have direct agency in. (Carla Marschall& Elizabeth Crawford)
Provide the space and opportunity for students to engage with communities that are affected by an issue and to do something about it. (Carla Marschall & Elizabeth Crawford).
Use projects to have learners apply what they are learning and demonstrate they know how to use those skills (Raya Bidshahri & Victoria Ransom)
Allow students to engage in hands-on learning by building the solutions they create (Raya Bidshahri & Victoria Ransom)
8. Measure Using Competency Based Assessment
Allow students to advance at their own pace and competency level. Student must master subjects before moving on to more advanced topics. (Raya Bidshahri & Victoria Ransom)
Align assessment with ways that skills are used and assessed in the actual workforce. (Raya Bidshahri)
LINKS & RESOURCES
Lesson plans and units by the Institute for Humane Education
Learn and teach the issues by the Institute for Humane Education
Solutionary Guidebook offers a rationale and step-by-step process for educating people to be solutionaries
Worldwise Learning: A Teacher's Guide to Shaping a Just, Sustainable Future by Carla Marschall & Elizabeth O. Crawford
School of Humanity Curriculum
School of Humanity Approach
k20 Events focused on the latest innovations in technology and education
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
Education has the opprituntity to become a positive driver for solving our world's greatest challenges. By welcoming these types of innovative solutions, educators, innovators, and entrepreneurs like us can not only change the education system, but begin to change all the other systems we prepare students to tackle. Now my goal for these episodes is not just to tell you what the problems are and a few solutions that are being used, but inspire and help you to begin creating new solutions. My recommendation is study these models and use the building blocks that work best to develop new models of education. Additionally, we must continue to change and develop the current systems because a majority of students are already embedded in the traditional model, and while new solutions are great, they only reach a small percentage of the student population. So solving the education crisis is not an either or situation, it's one that calls for solutions in existing systems while simultaneously building new ones.