Education is one of the most important sets of social issues. Whether it is used as part of an election platform or the focus of a public policy initiative, education is a key service of civil society. Not only does the quality of an education impact how well individuals can function in society and the workforce, education determines the capacity of a society to engage in civil discourse, which is particularly important when a nation is under the rule of a democratic government. In recent decades, as technological advances have made it necessary for people to become far more technically proficient and the globalization of the economy has forced citizens of all countries to become far more skilled in general, there have been numerous efforts to reform the public education system. For the most part, there is consensus that the public education system needs to change, but there is great disagreement over how dysfunction public schools revived and the overall education modernized. A great deal of the problem seems to be that people do not have a common understanding of what makes an education an education.
Public policy initiatives, including the No Child Left Behind Law and the Common Core State Standards initiative, focused heavily on assessment tests and standardized curricula. These past approaches provided benefits to students, but they also placed undue burdens on schools, teachers, and students that did nothing to improve the educational experiences of students. The common cost of all reforms to schools, teachers, and students is time. There is only so much time in a day, in a school year, and in a school career for students to learn what they will need to function in the modern world. The school year and the school day could be lengthened, which it largely has been thanks to mountains of homework that keep growing. Drowning children in academia, however, derives children of extracurricular experiences. It also does nothing to fix the inefficiencies of school learning. If anything, demanding more time from teachers and students makes education less efficient. More importantly, the amount of information known to the human race continually goes, so there is no way for students to stay caught up, outside of actual lifelong learning and learning to learn.
What the education system can do is turn to innovative learning techniques and technology. Public education can adopt the strategies of successful private, and public, institutions while all schools can better utilize the information and other resources available to everone on the internet, which they have been trying to do. Unfortunately, there is a shortcoming shared by academia and the technologies internet users search the cyberworld with. Today, search engines have increasingly become “answer engines” that foster a thoughtlessness on behalf of their users. Instead of engaging in critical thinking and sound research practices, internet users are being encouraged, and therefore trained, to simply accept the easy answers provided to them by artificial intelligence-driven virtual assistants. The over-reliance on standardized tests and knowledge-based curricula also train educators and students to thoughtlessly amass bits of knowledge, much of which they forget within weeks to months of learning it. Educators need to teach student to discover, comprehend, and assimilate the universe of information and knowledge available to them.
Holding teachers and students to academic standards is essential. It is not necessarily done to improve the performance of the good students or good teachers. It is done to keep low-performing students, teachers, and schools on track. At the same time, it can help all students learn better offering them insights. The only way to hold all students, teachers, and schools to standards is to create standards and assess the proficiency of students. The sign of a quality is education is not, however, the ability of students to give correct answers. The key difference between a quality education and institutionalized memorization is the ability to solve novel problems and find answers to problems. In truth, teaching students to engage in critical thinking is difficult, especially when former-students-turned-teachers never had to learn the degree of critical thinking skills and knowledge students need today. Ideally, all teachers would flawlessly utilize every learning technique available and provide every students with the learning support they need to navigate the learning process. In practice, academia is far from ideal.
Online resources can now make up for the deficits of teachers, who can guide students through the learning process with the right educational tools, yet these tools are also easily abused. One of the most detrimental issues with the over-reliance on assessment tests has been the tendency to “teach to the test.” Instead of learning, teachers and students are incentivized to simply deliver high test scores, which is something even classroom assessments have always encouraged. When online study tools, such as Quizlet, are deployed to give students practice questions then those practice questions are used as the tests, the education process is reduced to test training. That is not learning. That is gaming the education system. When students are given practices that help them memorize a bunch of information then a handful of that information is tested for, education is reduced to a twelve-year cram-session. When online resources are used to show students how problems are solved and how answers are found then they are asked to do the same with different information and teachers help them correct their wrong answer, i.e. give them learning support, that is concept training. That is education.
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