Education System in the Balance?

 

My response to:

The tipping point in education reaching soon, time for disruption.

Published on July 12, 2017

By Krishna Kumar

Reimagining education

Mr. Kumar stated, ““Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” — Jim Rohn

<<https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/tipping-point-education-reaching-soon-time-disruption-krishna-kumar>&gt;

Jim Rohn was a motivational speaker. I do not need a motivational speaker and I suspect nobody else does either.

While I do not criticize foreign educational systems, per se, I feel that this does apply to the US as well. Again, the US (Ivy League Schools) is mentioned in the piece so that gives me more justification for criticism.

His LinkedIn profile does not list education so I cannot comment on it, and know not where he is coming from. If you have a PhD I do not know it! So, I apologize for not say Dr. Kumar, if you have a PhD.

Mr. Kumar wrote, “While I was doing my tenth grade, during lunch break at school, I run to library, to get the latest issue of National Geographic, a treasured magazine, those days, with glossy pages and mind-blowing photographs, enough to throw some sparks to a ‘visuals hungry mind’. And a reluctant librarian gave the copy of the magazine, after a serious interrogation, like an immigration officer. That moment was an Oscar moment. How difficult it was to access things we love. That was 20 years ago, in a school, which was then considered as forward looking and progressive compared to others in that town.”

You probably could have gone to the local library on Saturday and read National Geographic, at your leisure. It is called patience. People today are not willing to wait or unwilling/unable to plan ahead. You want immediate answers from the Internet. But as I have said elsewhere, the Internet is not vetted. It is full of sales/marketing ploys (lies) and useless Youtube videos.

Mr. Kumar continued, “Today, when my 9 year old son tells me, “Baba, I want to know which are the most dangerous sports in the world.” — in a matter of half a minute, he finds it out from a YouTube channel in an iPad which is casually thrown into the sofa in our living room. He selects intuitively the best video out of ‘special thumbnail recognition’- an instinct which is gifted in this information era for children who spends a lot of time on the internet! For the next 15 minutes, he watches a video which is well produced— gets a quick bite of exciting information which he consumes like a winner!”

Yes and what did your 9 year old learn in 15 minutes? I search the Internet and fail to find answers nearly every day. I have been on the Internet since the early 1990s (25 years).

The growth of Internet has been for business marketing purposes.

So, how long does he retain this information? Does he even know what the sports are? I mean that a 15 minute video may give you some idea but it will not be definitive. How did the producers determine violence? How did they measure it in order to say that these were the most violent sports? Etc.? How did they define sports? Which sports did they even consider?

Why was a nine year old interested in violent sports? I barely knew about any sport except baseball when I was 9.

The Elephant and a Cheetah

Mr. Kumar further continued, “The world is moving faster than we realise. The skills required to win in this new world are also taking a new shape. The way these skills can be acquired is bound for disruption. The tipping point is reaching soon. Are we ready? The age old systems are so clunky and inefficient that we think, how can we change this system fast? It is like moving an elephant when the new economy requires learning at the speed of a cheetah.“

The skills that you are thinking about should not be taught in schools. As I have already said in a recent LinkedIn post and elsewhere, the skills are not any different than they were 30-40 years ago. Schools are not good at teaching fads.

School was meant to transfer knowledge from one generation to the next. It was not to prepare for the college or the workplace. There is plenty of knowledge that could be taught that has not changed. Since it is impossible to keep up with all of the new knowledge why waste class time exploring it? They can explore it on their own once they graduate or on the own time.

What keeps changing is reformers and their desires to change everything. Anything status quo is bad and must be changed, according to them.

They all want some kind of utility associated with education. It must be used directly for work. Why?

Factory model is shutting down talent

Mr. Kumar stated, “The current education system is undoubtedly a factory model, one size fits all. It has a standard format which believes that one syllabus will fit in the aspirations, motivation and traits of different people in a classroom. It is not personalised. It is costlier.”

It is not meant to fit ones aspirations. You are meant to learn what gets taught as best you can. Different students will do better at different things. The idea is to expose each child to as much as possible, to be a more well-rounded individual. Even in college only about 20% of the time spent on one’s major, with the remaining time being spent on a minor (even less than 20%) and general knowledge courses. So to say that education is to make one ready for work is a misconception. Some of college is but most is not. Education is meant to make more knowledgeable citizens in order to govern ourselves. I feel the education in the US has not been for that for at least a generation.

Businesses must train their employees on what they want done. A school is very inefficient at this, especially if one considers technology. My academic councilor told me, back in the early1990s, that college was just to see how trainable you are and that the company would train you on what they wanted done. This is apparently not being done in the US or India.

Schools are not here to produce graduates. They are here to produce knowledgeable graduates. It is quality over quantity. College is not a right. It is a reward for scholars, just as the Olympics and professional sports are for athletes. K-12 is here to determine what kind of a scholar a kid is, if any! Most are not scholars. The same way most are not natural athletes. You accept the fact that we cannot all be athletes but you cannot accept the fact we are all not scholars. Why is that? Most of the jobs out there can be done with only an Elementary School education. Most kids can handle this! One hundred years ago, in the US, these jobs were being done by adults with a third grade education or less, manually. Computers make it easier to do, not harder, so even less schooling is needed but not more. I am talking about mainly retail sales jobs, which are still most jobs in the US.

It has been said here in the US, that college graduates of today know about what high school graduates of the 1950s knew. This is far from progress. It is in fact regression.

The average IQ of high school graduates and college graduates, in the US, have been declining over the decades as the number of graduates has increased, since the 1970s or so. Quantity up and quality down, so they are inversely proportional.

Mr. Kumar stated, “Tuition fees rise 100% every 7 years. And moreover the biggest challenge: good teachers are just not available. If they are good, they are expensive or unavailable because of lack of incentives. New economy skills can’t be clearly taught by the traditional method of teaching. Teachers who adapt to new environments or acquire new skills are absorbed by the industry to contribute in high earning areas, leaving education an empty area with unmotivated, low paid teachers.“

I would not want Einstein teaching Kindergarten. Most teachers in the US, are college graduates and that should mean the higher IQ’d among us. They should have and do have an average IQ higher than the average IQ of the students. The average IQ of a college graduate is 113 and about 99 for high school graduates, in the US, for the majority. This is significant, not super large but more than adequate.

These skills cannot be taught at all by schools. Again, employers need to train their employees on the finer aspects of a given job. The skills/knowledge is changing too fast to make a classroom a viable vehicle.

Case in point: In the Fall of 2012, I took a course at my local community college that taught me ESRI’s ArcMap software, at version 10.0! In the Spring of 2013 I took a more advanced course and the version of the same software was 10.1! Up until then the school kept up with change, but even before the end of that semester ESRI was announcing version 10.2! In less than one year what I was taught was already outdated. So, how much more in 4 years? Technology taught a Freshman will be obsolete before they graduate. So, what is the point?

Cost Monster in Education

Mr. Kumar wrote, “The cost of education has made the student debt problem high. Many students after university programs have to pay debt instalments for their student loan limiting their freedom to do remarkable work, rather they worry about job security.“

The rising cost of education here in the US is in part caused by our government. This is both in terms of finance and pushing more and more of us into college—artificially increasing the supply of graduates beyond the demand.

But the fact the student debt is so huge is because the good paying jobs are not here to pay a decent salary in order to pay off the student loans. So, it more a lack of supply of jobs that causes the problem.

Demonising education

Mr. Kumar posited, “Compliance is the key in our system. More than actual acquisition of skills, we focus on testing it using tough and stringent examinations killing the fun of learning in a free flowing encouraging environment which drives curiosity.”

Curiosity is something we are born with and smart people can keep this all of their lives.

Get used to it. Life is not all about having fun. Actually natural scholars, the top quartile, can still remain curious because they have the capability of learning that the other 75% do not have. In the US we have just over 40% with some kind of college degree and only 27% of the jobs will require a college degree. Since there are more people than jobs then this over- abundance is even worse than it would appear. The US, China, and I think even India have a glut of college graduates. Why is it we push for more and more? It may be the rich pushing this because with too many graduates they can deflate wages and therefore increase their wealth. The single biggest cost to business is wages.

Acquisition of knowledge and not skills is what school should be for.

Less people have access

Mr. Kumar stated, “Many colleges have only limited seats making a few students left behind in the race for acquiring education. It is like denying access to learning because there are less seats in a college.”

Again, College is not a right. Most should not even go to college. In the US most drop out of college. We are trying to make it too easy to go to college in the US. I wonder if India is trying to do the same thing. Japan has a high rate of college completions but they make it hard to go to college, in the first place.

Mr. Kumar continued, “Are colleges focusing on core skills? Or are they flashing the brand signals to employers, with much less to talk about actual up-skilling.”

Colleges should concentrate on core skills. I have already said why!

Where are the risk takers?

Mr. Kumar continued, “First of all, our schooling system is not creating leaders. Parents and teachers decide what children need to learn. We nurture safety, security and complacency. Not risk taking, pursuing the inner call or explore new areas. We believe in certificates, university degrees and resultant employer validation making the economic value of the education proved through a highly paid job. This is available for 3-5% of the student population who are naturally brilliant with high IQ/EQ levels. They grow despite education.”

Teachers should decide what gets taught, after all they know their field.

I have said that the top quartile (25%) should be in college, 4-year degrees and beyond, with maybe another 5% for Associate’s degrees. So, a total of maybe 30% should attend college. In the US only 27% of all jobs will require a college degree so that about 30% is just about right. But again this needs to be tempered with the fact that we have more people than jobs.

The top 3-5% are IQ of 125 and higher. For the average majoirty person in the US the IQ of those with PhD’s is 124. So, you are talking about a select few who get PhD’s, if one were talking about the US.

Democratising education

Mr. Kumar wrote, “We are then left with 95% students who need help, guidance and direction. Our education system ignores this vast segment. We want poster boys! This won’t help. Democratising the benefits of education is key considering the skills gap we find in our economy. The economies who build sustainable talent pipelines would survive this wave.“

It is ironic that Americans used to go to India and get some experience then come home to take US jobs. But I guess now India is no longer training its employees. The US stopped doing this maybe 20 years ago. Now both are complaining about not having enough qualified applicants. One can curse the darkness or light a candle. Take your pick.

The skills gap is wholly the fault of business. Businesses used to train college graduates on jobs and now they just complain. They expect others to foot the training bill! Why? Profit I guess!

This wave may be more permanent then one thinks. AI and innovation have caused a net loss of jobs, worldwide. For the years, 2015-2020, The World Economic Forum predicts an average of just over 1 million net loss of jobs worldwide (in 14 countries)—this to include the US and India. This will continue for the near term, and if AI really does take off then the job losses will accelerate. So, you may be beating a dead horse. It will be too little too late.

In the US, we have 100 million adults age 18-64, unemployed out of a workforce of 264 million. We have about 145 million jobs filled and another 6 million open jobs, so that is about 150 million total jobs for 264 million adults. No amount of schooling or training will fix this problem. Last month 200,000 people, in the US, were hired (or jobs created) but about 168,000 dropped out of the workforce.

Mr. Kumar continued, “Education system can’t be designed by a government or private bodies who look only for profits. It must be designed by the market forces with the help of learning specialists.”

The education system, in the US, is just fine, even though education reformers think not. Employers need to train their employees both in India and in the US.

I am bit confused here. You say that the education cannot be designed by private bodies (business out for profit) but it must be designed by market forces. Aren’t market forces and businesses one and the same thing?

You are trying to use the wrong implement so solve the problem. Education will not solve the so-called skills gap.

Learning specialists never were needed before so why are they now needed?

Mr. Kumar put forth the following, “With faster internet, education is now moving from brick and mortar colleges to smart screen of mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktops. Access to knowledge is free. The only thing student need to do is to use the access productively.”

The Internet is controlling people. Whoever controls the Internet controls the world. This is the rich.

One needs to use the access productively? Obviously one would not want to waste one’s time doing anything. But again, most search hits are bogus. Weeding through the hits (surfing) is not very efficient.

Internet unleashing the power of learning platforms

Mr. Kumar submitted, “A new era has begun with MOOCs and online learning platforms. It is creating a level playing field. A fair and equal approach of giving access to world class education to all the knowledge hungry people in the world. Most of them are free. Some of them charge nominal amount for verified certificates. But each course is designed by the best faculty members, experts and people who not only possess deep domain knowledge but are also passionate. Ivy League Universities in US are building a new culture of designing and uploading courses in these platforms for the benefit of students across the world, especially people who do not have easy access, like students in India, Africa or South East Asia. These courses are in English and are designed for the global audience.”

According to Wikipedia on MOOCs, only 27% of high school courses are completed and that is by far the most (more than double college completion rates), as undergrad is 8% and graduate school is only 5%.

So, I would not tout MOOCs as a great educational platform. Less than half complete a course.

I know of a college professor that said that her online classes learned less than her face-to-face classes. Again, this is not a ringing endorsement for online classes. I got my Master’s degree completely online but I was over 40 years old when I did it.

Skills to master for successful job acquisition

Mr. Kumar continued, “In emerging economies, skills scarcity is severe considering the new opportunities in the market and the need for skilled motivated workforces. Most of the time motivation comes from the ability to do a task using a skill successfully. Many young people fail in the delicate and complicated dynamics of using the soft and hard skills effectively at a workplace leading to early stage failures, frustration and giving up on a career they dreamt to build. All credit goes to a faulty system which misguided them.”

Perhaps the way school is taught, when it is taught differently than they’ll find at work might just cause this and this is pushed by reformers. Do you have a lot of recent college graduates fired? How much time do companies give to adjust to the job? I have not heard of this problem in the US.

More collaboration than competition

Mr. Kumar stated, “Many learning experts are encouraging peer to peer learning for better learning retention as the conviction of what you learn when it is coming from people of your age and almost same context matters more. At traditional colleges, we are creating unhealthy peer to peer competition leading to lesser knowledge sharing. What is emerging is P2P learning. Human to human interaction leading to deeper conviction.”

I would prefer to learn from someone older than me—more venerable. In the US today there is a significant number of older adults, many are near the same age as the professor and sometimes older than the professors. I do not think that same age has anything to do with it.

Again, I still have my problems with team learning.

Failing is important

Mr. Kumar posited, ““Our large schools are organised like a factory of the late 19th century: top down, command control management, a system designed to stifle creativity and independent judgment.” — David T Kearns, CEO Xerox.

When we learn something new, it is important to practice it and perfect the art of achieving success consistently and predictably using those skills. But what we do instead is to test it brutally and create a fear of failure. Taking risks means equal chance of success or failure. We have created a culture of condemning failures and celebrating successes. Remember, failure and success are relative terms.”

Yes, they are relative terms but then again they can approach an absolute status. One can fail and be out business. A school can fail to educate its students so that they lose their rights and their ability to govern themselves by not passing on knowledge. Since they are bad at teaching fads, then they are not doing wither job. We need to come to some consensus as to why we educate our young, instead of pulling education system apart.

Massive machinery to run colleges making it inefficient

Mr. Kumar wrote, “Years ago, I was part of setting up a network of colleges in India, and I realised how much goes into physical infrastructure, labs and the huge administrative and academic machinery that must work to ensure every day classroom sessions happen. It is an elephant task to run a college considering the high amount of hormone levels in action. A well laid out structure, a military regimen and a tight syllabus only can run it at a precision which government academic regulatory bodies approve of. And finally the output is the disaster that creates mediocre people. If an Elon Musk is thinking of disrupting education, what would he do?”

While any large system will have inefficiencies schools do tend to work if they are not interfered with. Most people are mediocre before school and all of their lives. The school system did not make them that way. It is called being average. Again, most people, by definition (and IQs) are average. Most are average students. Average students should not be going to college. Why would you want the average leading the world?

According to Wikipedia, << https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elon_Musk>&gt;,  “Musk has stated that the goals of SolarCity, Tesla, and SpaceX revolve around his vision to change the world and humanity. His goals include reducing global warming through sustainable energy production and consumption, and reducing the “risk of human extinction” by “making life multi-planetary” by establishing a human colony on Mars.”

His goals are superfluous and silly. Global warming is not mainly manmade so that eliminating the human carbon footprint will have little effect on the planet. The oceans release more CO2 than humans do due to the Sun. Volcanoes also release more CO2 than humans do. Most CO2 in the atmosphere has been put there by nature. Also, there has been no global warming for the last 17-18 years.

I would like to see renewable energy. Actually the safest and cleanest power plants now are hydroelectric power plants. Moving water is all that is needed. I don’t want to combat so-called global warming though. It is amazing we went from the next ice age in the 1970s to runaway greenhouse effect now. See, why many doubt manmade global warming?

What is silly is the fact when the Sun dies (5 Billion years from now) even Mars will not be safe. Mars may be thrown out of the Solar System even before that (and Mercury may collide with the Earth). Regardless, Mars will not be inhabitable. So, we will have to leave the Solar System and do it en mass. We’d better develop the capability to travel at or near the speed of light. Some of the closet stars with Earthlike planets are 50 light years away, so that even if we travel at the speed of light it would take nearly a lifetime to get there.

The Andromeda Galaxy will collide with our own galaxy The Milky Way, in the distant future. So, humanity needs to get the heck out of the Galaxy, not just colonize Mars.

Who will decide who goes to this Martian colony? What are the ethical considerations?

Finding inefficiencies to fill the gap

Mr. Kumar suggested, After years of thinking and discussions with learning specialists, teachers, students and employers, a team of passionate educators in India designed a model which can blend online learning, community based P2P learning with focus on in-demand skills and at the same time building the cognitive skills required to succeed at a modern workplace and thereby helping to significantly solve the skills crisis. The platform called Tribr aims at building organised learning communities which can drive online learning.”

Again, you are trying to teach IQ, which is impossible. The businesses themselves must train their own people. Schools cannot train everyone for every business out there.

In her 2013 book Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch quotes, ““Krugman [Paul Krugman?] concludes: “So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education is not the answer—we’ll have to go about building that society directly.” [87,88]

 

[Paul?] Krugman’s analysis was supported by a report that large numbers of recent college graduates were unemployed or underemployed. A 2012 study of census data by researchers at Northeastern University, Drexel University, and the Economic Policy Institute found that about 1.5 million, or about 53.6%, of people under the age of twenty-five with a bachelor’s degree were jobless or underemployed.” [88]”

Education or training will not help any country achieve a booming economy. The US has our most educated workforce in our history and yet our so-called recovery from the recession of 2008-2009 has been the worst recovery in our history. I would suspect that this will be true in other parts of the world. Education of the masses was not why we became the largest economy of Earth. So, why do people think that education has much to do with the economy at large?

Bite-sized courses to stay relevant

Mr. Kumar suggested, “Many colleges in the traditional sense try to create skills inventory for the job market and miserably fail in it as they do not know the pulse of the skills markets. It takes a lot of effort to map what the in-demand skills are and to design your system for it. Gone are the days when we worry about two year long courses. It is too long and boring! We need short sized niche courses which can help to acquire a particular skill. Add such courses to your kit. You call it a stackable degree. 8-50 hours courses make sense in the new world. Short, crisp, self paced and relevant. At Tribr, we encourage learners in our community to take up short courses every month. This leads them to complete 12-15 courses a year, far more meaningful than long winding courses with a boring semester end exam.”

I just wonder how much short courses are going to help. If they are so easy to learn then they probably not worth attending and one can learn on one’s own.

Structure determines your behaviour

Mr. Kumar continued, Organised learning communities create a sense of belongingness. We are part of a tribe. Learners need a sense of urgency to complete the online courses they undertake. It can only happen with communities working like sports clubs. A sporty environment to create the enthusiasm amongst the tribe members to achieve their learning goals together. The euphoria is huge. The celebrations are wild. Employers consider members in such dynamic teams as capable of working on complicated projects as they are comfortable with ambiguity. It is a cognitive skill they develop unknowingly. The more interaction with dynamic and unpredictable elements, the more entrepreneurial you are!”

We are NOT part of a tribe, unless you are talking about the human race. We are all individuals. I have never thought of entrepreneurs as good. I thought of them as flighty and not willing to see things through. They want to start a business and then sell if off, thereby affecting the company’s employees adversely. They are out to make a quick buck! They treat the very people that helped build the company with a total lack of respect. They treat people as a means to their ends and this is unethical.

Achieving learning goals together? What about the smart ones being held back by the not so smart ones. Is this fair to them? Won’t the smart ones tend to dominate and not so smart ones tend to coast?

This leads to mediocrity. And this whole business model leads to built-in obsolescence.  So we have a bunch of mediocre people building poor quality systems. Well, what other outcome would one expect?

Algorithmic work to create a seamless learning experience

“The Tribr backend curation team validates the online courses, almost three thousand of them, from sixty five platforms, based on multiple factors. So when a learner joins the platform, they get to build their learner profile and it helps Tribr to curate courses and publish the list of courses they must undertake over the next twelve months. Add to that our tracking system that will monitor the progress of course completion and a constant engagement to keep the flame alive as we aim at eighty percent completion compared to the normal five percent.”

Is that 5% from graduate students? I love impossible goals. No I do not. I am being facetious. I consider unrealistic goals unethical. Again, it is not the quantity of graduates but the quality of graduates. So, just pursuing this course of action is wrong!

The thing about individualize course of study is it does not mirror real life workplace. You will not do what you want. You will be forced to learn what they want you to learn and when they want it learned and in the way they teach it. I would argue that traditional education makes one more ready for work as it is more realistic business paradigm.

Three things would matter in learning in the new world 

Curiosity

Mr. Kumar pointed out, “To keep the hunger alive so that we learn from different sources. Be it internet or peers.”

Again, should happen naturally and probably will happen naturally. No need to mention it, really. Curiosity happens naturally but there comes a time when we should be allowed to use what we’ve learned. This may not happen. This will lead to discouragement. In other words lack of jobs will kill the desire to learn.

 

Connectivity

Mr. Kumar suggested, “To access world class education in a flexible, convenient and affordable manner.”

Question is, is a world class education online possible? MOOCs for whatever reason are not catching on the population at large. With less than 40% completion of well-produced, easy, short courses something is amiss.

Who is to determine or define what exactly is a world-class education? Is the answer, who’s ever saying that they have a world-class education? I do not think that we have a universal definition!

Collaboration

Mr. Kumar concluded, “To work with peers to learn faster using observation, sense of urgency and peer to peer learning.”

Technically since we are all different so nobody is anyone else’s peer. One cannot observe by one’s self? It has to be in a group? Most breakthroughs in science and mathematics have come from people working alone. Teams just mess things up. You spend so time trying to keep the others up to date as to your progress and the progress of your group, so that you have less time for your own work.

Also, since we will have many people of different ages out of work or otherwise looking for training, then peer must be defined rather loosely. That is, not by age group but two people separated by many years cannot be peers.

As I said reformers do not like history. They do not want it taught. They want to go on making the same mistakes over and over again. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different result is Einstein’s definition of insanity. After all, reformers have over 100 years of failures, yet they still keep on trying.

So, I see a number of problems with education reform in general, and specifically with this paper, too.

I advocate going back to a time when things appeared to work, in the 1950s-1970s, before the bogus report, A Nation at Risk, was published. It has done more to harm education in the US, than any other single thing. Reformers have around long before that but this just got publicized by the media and others and accelerated the changes that reformers have wanted.

So, we may be at a tipping point but we should not be there!

 

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