Education is one of the most (if not the most) important features of a strong society. As much as we gripe about our current education system, America does actually have a good system; It produces some of the best thinkers on the planet and does a reasonable job of giving everyone the base-level skills needed to survive within our modern society. However, there is plenty of room for improvement.
For many conservatives, job creation seems to focus on returning manufacturing jobs to the US and giving tax breaks to large corporations to do it. Manufacturing is dead, and any proposals to bring back those jobs are shortsighted. Even if we stop sending jobs overseas where people can work more cheaply, given a few years, they’ll just give those jobs to robotic manufacturing plants that work even cheaper. We’re already doing this of course, but the problem will only become worse as technology continues to advance.
The answer is education, both for adults who need to find new skills, and for children, where our current strategies fall short on creating citizens who are engaged and curious about the world around them. We have to start training people in areas that are harder to be automated (in the long run, we’re all likely replaceable, which is either going to be a great or terrible thing), and it needs to be open to everyone, regardless of income and location.
Traditional teaching isn’t going to make quality education available to all; we’ll need to utilize technology. In addition to providing quality education regardless of location, using technology also has many other benefits listed below. Keep in mind that the points below are written from the perspective of providing K-12 education, but this style of education should be available to anyone on topics ranging from learning the ABC’s to topics within Computer Science and Theoretical Physics.
The system that I propose is a web-based system of courses (probably short, 2-3 week courses), where the curriculum is catered to the individual and responds to the student’s interests and learning style. It could be used by school districts, parents, or anyone who wants to pick up a course to learn something new. A teacher’s role would likely just be for guidance, answering questions, and support, while the technology would develop lessons, tests, and the overall arc of the student’s education.
Tailored to Each Student
Currently classes have thirty to forty students (or more) and one teacher to assist them all. We can’t tailor a curriculum to each student’s interests or learning style with this system. Imagine a system that realizes a child is interested in dinosaurs, so it incorporates this interest in a variety of ways to help the student learn. It could also learn how the child learns best, so it could use that information to more effectively reach the child. Does the child learn best by examples, doing problems, reading and testing? We could build a system that knows this and changes based on the student.
Greater Depth and Driving Curiosity
A system that can learn the interests of it student would help drive curiosity (and the love of learning), and could assist that student to dig deeper into the topics that they enjoy. We need to foster curiosity and the desire to learn, which is hard to do for a teacher who has to concern themselves with thirty students, but perhaps easier for a computer which is tailored to each student.
A curriculum developed specifically for each student would help with engagement and overall student happiness. Since each student would be on their own track, the pressures to keep up would disappear and the individualized support that they would receive would help to mediate the difficulties and frustration that many students face today, which can negatively impact our views on learning and education.
No More Biases
There are several studies that teachers are biased (they are human after all). Sometimes teachers give more attention to more attractive students, or loud students, or any number of differentiating features. A technological approach would be free of this.
No More “Class Of…”
Having dedicated classes that move together at the same pace causes many issues. Older students in their class grouping often do better than younger students, students are sometimes forced into starting school when they’re not quite ready, or later than they could have. A web-based, technology solution would allow a student to start school whenever it is best for them. Topics could also be taught in different arrangements. While we currently dictate a series of classes, a fully custom curriculum could delay classes that the student isn’t ready for, or bring in new courses to help build the foundations needed to move forward.
In order to provide the equal level of attention, we would need to hire a massive amount of teachers. The cost to develop this technology would likely be fairly minimal, and can more easily be adapted and improved over time.
Income inequality is going to be an increasingly large factor in our lives unless we do something about it. While there are many drivers to the issue, the urban/rural divide seems to play some role in this. In cities there are many more opportunities for specialized schools, a greater stock of quality teachers, and other opportunities for education. Creating a system delivered by the web would give anyone with an internet connection the ability to receive quality educational resources and learn as much as they want to (this is perhaps also an argument for base-level government-provided broadband for everyone).
Whether or not we as a country take this on, a technologically-based system will be developed at some point in the future, and it’s likely that the first country that does will move to the forefront of innovation, well-being, and overall happiness.