The Platform

A classroom in the 1920s. (pellethepoet/Flickr)

Our education model is perfect for would-be fry cooks on Venus but not for kids who want rewarding and high-paying jobs.

Everyone talks about reforming public schools and “getting back to basics,” but they have it wrong. We must call for the educational focus to move forward to providing new basics of educational foundations, which need to be taught today, in order for graduates to perform in tomorrow’s complex work environment.

In the past, when we transitioned from an Industrial Age society to an Information Age society, the need for new skill sets was very apparent. Most school systems have yet to make that shift and still teach the traditional “three Rs of the Industrial Age.”

No, not “reading, writing, and arithmetic,” but the three Rs of rote, repetition, and routine, the skill sets needed to perform in Industrial Age factory jobs. We are way past those types of regimented jobs and yet many school systems still teach an antiquated approach which does nothing to prepare a high-school graduate to compete in today’s workforce. That is why there is such a disconnect between graduates and what they can qualify for in today’s job market.

Forty years ago, an MIT professor stated in a graduate course on information science, “We want you to learn how to learn, and not just memorize a bunch of facts.” Learning where to go to get more information and new information is a key skill, especially when the subject and its base of knowledge changes so rapidly and dynamically.

About eight years ago, I published a whitepaper that discussed FACT-based skill sets as they are needed as a solid foundation for the better-paying, non-routine jobs of today. FACT stands for flexibility, adaptability, creativity, and technology skills.

Another core competency that is needed is trainability.

Trainability? The ability to acquire more skills and learn new concepts on an ongoing basis on the job well after graduation. This is critical because as the MIT professor observed, better-paying jobs require a dedication to continuous education long after a diploma is received. Learning does not stop at the point of graduation, at least not for jobs that pay more than minimum wage and have a real career path.

Both public school and higher education objectives have gotten off track and have emphasized worthless curricula which do not prepare students how to think, let alone for good-paying career opportunities. Even something as basic as reading comprehension has suffered and it shows when those high-school graduates move into a college curriculum.

Other countries are spending a lot of time and money on teaching their students complex math, engineering, and computer science skills which translate into being well-prepared to compete in the global workplace.

If the career goal for a high-school graduate is to be an Assistant Barista at Starbucks, a fast-food cashier who still needs a register to tell them how to make change, or a warehouse loader in an Amazon Distribution Center, our current efforts in education may give some people enough skills. But, if the vast majority want to compete for better jobs, a real career beyond minimum-wage jobs, and more challenging work, they need to be armed with the skills they need to absorb complex concepts and have the ability to think in abstract applications of engineering, math, and software development.

Real money is made when you know how to design and engineer video games or drones, not when you just know how to play with them. We need to focus on exposing students to non-typical career paths by offering courses covering data analytics, robotics, drone technology, and other areas that are industries in themselves.

Schools should be focused on providing a solid foundation to develop cognitive skills to tackle complex math and science problems. Algebra is not enough math and yet, some students argue that Algebra will never be used after they graduate.

Well, that’s true if they are working at minimum-wage jobs where all they need to do is lift boxes all day or know the difference between ingredients for a latte or a Frappuccino. But if they want to compete with graduates coming out of foreign schools for the better-paying jobs, they need to have a much broader background in complex subjects, sciences, and disciplines.

Curriculum reform also needs to be focused on skills that translate into a good foundation for many types of jobs and career levels. Learning how to speak and write well is important for people starting into careers as well as moving into executive roles. Speaking in front of a group of people is very difficult for a vast majority of college students. What kind of jobs do they expect to qualify for if they cannot communicate with a team of people?

School districts need to re-evaluate their curriculum. Parents need to get involved and have input. Universities also need to focus on majors that have relevance and will be worth the investments of both time and money by the students. There should be no more complaints of “worthless degrees.”

In many states, reading and math skills dropped significantly during the pandemic and those within that generation need to have more time in acquiring those skills to become the best they can be by the time they graduate.

Reading scores as well as math levels for grade school and high school students need to be addressed and improved, not ignored, and glossed over, by both the school administrations and teachers as well as parents.

Good opportunities are not going to be given to just anybody. Competition for good jobs will continue to be a factor. People need to be qualified and that means a greater emphasis on learning and the ability to think critically throughout life.

Reform of an antiquated institution like public schools is long overdue. Colleges, and their influence on public schools through the graduates in education they produce, also need to recalibrate their curricula to reflect the reality of these new basic requirements.

James Carlini is a strategist for mission critical networks, technology, and intelligent infrastructure. Since 1986, he has been president of Carlini and Associates. Besides being an author, keynote speaker, and strategic consultant on large mission critical networks including the planning and design for the Chicago 911 center, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange trading floor networks, and the international network for GLOBEX, he has served as an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University.