Are We Waiting for An Education Crisis?

Watching Bill Gates and Warren Buffett at Columbia University, Bill Gates said the thing that worries him most for the future is the state of our education system.  He’s right.  6.2 million students dropped out of high school in 2007.  Amongst those who do graduate from high school, basic reading comprehension and math skills have been steadily declining.  


Then there’s college.  Even graduate programs don’t teach lessons in leadership, communication, or entrepreneurial skills.  That is slowly beginning to change, if you can afford to go to a private university such as the University of Evansville that has an entrepreneurial studies program beginning.  Of course, the average in-state public university costs around $17,000 each year.  To get into a private university and an entrepreneurial program, you not only need the grades, you also need about $36,000 per year.  


So even those students who get into and through college aren’t being taught what they really need to know, and they’re paying a lot for that. 



Teachers Aren’t Allowed to Teach


With growing usage of standardized testing to determine whether a child passes on to the next grade, more and more teachers are ‘teaching to the test’.  They’re not truly engaging the student.  They aren’t teaching critical thinking skills.  They’re teaching students to learn facts long enough to regurgitate them on a test.  That’s it.  Because, they’re told, that’s their job.   


At the same time, the number of government mandated requirements are increasing while state and government funding is decreasing.  Schools have to meet more specific requirements with less money.   So guess what they’re doing?  They’re cutting teachers, as well as the most basic resources.  


The administration and funding in schools is not conducive to learning, and it’s getting worse.  



Then They Enter The Workforce


These students with decreasing rates of completing school, or those who complete school without basic skills and knowledge they truly need out in the world, eventually enter the workforce.  When they start work, they’re expected to already possess not only these skills, but soft skills like communication.  But they don’t.  They go on to stay in a job long enough to be promoted to management.  And managers are expected to manage, not lead.  They definitely aren’t taught how to coach and develop their people.  They expect HR to do that for them.  Except HR is busy with recruiting, and disciplinary procedures, and negotiating and administering benefits, and maybe a little party-planning on the side.  Besides, many HR people don’t have any background in adult learning or instructional development.  



And They Do It Wrong


Every once in a while, a leader in one of these companies will decide that maybe we should do a little training.  So they find a training group and bring them in for a day to teach something like communication or time management.  And the people play on their blackberry because the training is a typical cookie-cutter program that they’ve been through before, and they’re bored.  


The leader in these organizations is just turning their people over to a training group and saying, “Here they are.  You have one day.  Fix them.”  If they learn and retain anything at all, they typically only retain 20% of what they learn in that session. (That statistic goes up to over 80% when you couple coaching with a well-developed, specific training program.) 





For many leaders, the prevailing thinking is that you’ll invest in training and developing someone who just might then leave the organization and take that training elsewhere. Or that the problem is in the hiring.  You’re just not hiring good enough people.  (But take a look back up there.  The ‘good people‘ are educated and our education system is failing us.)  


There are companies that are forward-thinking enough to have a specific learning & development group.  But guess what one of the first things that got cut as the financial crisis hit was? 



Waiting for the Crisis


Are we waiting for a crisis?  That’s what we have a tendency to do.  Even recently, we waited for a financial crisis despite warnings that it was coming.  Now we’re talking about the healthcare crisis, despite many seeing the problems with the healthcare system for decades.  Are we waiting for a ‘talent crisis’ before we start fixing the education system and become committed to developing people within our organizations?  


It won’t just be a “Baby-Boomers-are-retiring-and-what-Gen-Y-expects” problem for companies down the road.  It will also be current leadership failing future generations by not educating and preparing them for what’s ahead.  


In the workplace, we need leaders to make the investment and utilize the ideas we’ve got out there right now that work.  But that’s not enough.  We’re not teaching or giving people the resources they need to succeed in schools or in many businesses.  


Do we need new ideas?  We absolutely do.  Could we use new delivery methods in learning/training?  Yes.  And some companies are already beginning to work with this.   We also need smart people from many disciplines, including the business community, to start getting together to come up with solutions.  


So what can we do?  Where do we start?


All the best!



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