Think fast: What is the purpose of education? Ask any group of people — including any group of educators — and you’re likely to hear a different answer from each. Therein is a clue. If each of us gives a different answer to this age-old question, doesn’t it follow that education serves a unique purpose, for each individual?
Indeed, if there is a common theme to answers given to this question, it typically revolves around the individual: “To give each person a life-long love of learning.” “To give learners practical skills that will enable them to support themselves.” “To ground each student in a philosophy of life that will allow him or her to flourish.” Is each a legitimate answer to the question? Yes. Is each focused on an individual’s growth and success? Yes.
For millennia, the practice of education has aimed for and fallen short of this ideal of individualized growth. The sheer scale of the challenge has long forced education institutions to adopt an assembly-line approach to learning that served the greatest number of students; e.g., subtraction in second grade, fractions in fourth. Ready or not, here it comes: Teaching to the middle may allow a learning environment to flourish for some students in the middle, some of the time, but it almost invariably leaves advanced students bored and restless and underperforming students falling ever further behind.
In the 21st century, we are at last on the cusp of technologies that allow for a truly individualized learning experience. In a one-to-one classroom, if a teacher can keep Student A occupied with learning fractions, while Student B tackles algebra, and both students can feel challenged and engaged in the pursuit of new skills, that seems like the Holy Grail of education, right? Well, perhaps. A lot is left up to the learner in this scenario. New technologies make it ever more important that each student develops the ability to enjoy learning, and habits that will allow him or her to keep learning, long after the school bell has rung.
That’s because the same technology ruptures have changed the modern workforce. Mostly gone are the routine jobs that employed the middle class of past generations. In their place are professional and services jobs, each requiring a unique set of skills and a constant learning curve to keep pace with competitive and technological change. The downside to the modern workforce is that those students who never learned to love learning are the ones falling behind. The upside? The 21st century workforce, like the 21st century classroom, offers each individual a chance to develop their own career path — their own life path — in a way that suits a unique set of skills and interests.
Here at the SmartBrief Education group, that will be the focus of our editorial interest for the next academic years. How are today’s education institutions equipping each student to embrace and lead her own learning? And how are education institutions and industry working together, to ensure that students entering the workforce have the necessary skills to compete in the modern economy? There is no dearth of dire news about the jobs situation for young Americans, even those with college degrees. How then are we working together to bridge the skills gaps consistently identified by hiring managers?
For the next 18 months, our beat will be the Path to Workforce — covering the creative ways that stakeholders at all levels are taking up that challenge.
Why call it the Path to Workforce? In our view, it’s a newer, better version of what used to be college and career readiness — preferable because it encompasses adult learners, those seeking a mid-career change, non-traditional students, and those likely to forgo a traditional four-year college experience. The Path to Workforce encompasses career and college news, but also the rise of vocational schools, skilled trades, the revival of apprenticeships, project-based learning and the maker movement, both in schools and in the workplace.
Our team is excited about what’s taking place in education and in the modern workforce. We hope you’ll join us on this journey as we cover it!
Joe Riddle is SmartBrief’s on Education’s publisher. He claims to have the best job in education, because he gets to interact daily with the brightest minds in the field: including teachers, trainers vendors and policy experts. Follow him on Twitter @josephriddle13.