Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Education for a Flat World

Sorry for the server problems - it means our pictures stored at neurolearning.com and mislabeledchild.com can't be seen. Hopefully our host server will be up and running soon.

While we were in North Carolina, we talked a lot about the implications of Thomas Friedman's book The World is Flat for Education in the 21st Century. What Friedman is talking about is how the Internet has resulted in the outsourcing of digitizable skills, so many good 'knowledge'-based jobs are being sent overseas. An example, over half of Fortune 500 companies outsource their software work to India.

To hear Friedman on a downloadable video at MIT Open Courseware, click here. Education Next reviews Friedman's book here. Excerpt: "He lays out the stark numbers to document our education gap: the U.S. now ranks 17th in the number of students receiving science degrees, down from 3rd three decades ago; the percentage of scientific papers written by Americans has fallen 10 percent since 1992; the U.S. share of patents has dropped 8 percent since 1980. Then he brings in the big guns, relaying the results of the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS): 44 percent of 8th graders in Singapore scored at the most advanced level in math, as did 38 percent in Taiwan; only 7 percent in the United States did."

The numbers are indeed stark, and schools are struggling as it is to meet demands of basic competence in reading and writing, so that some school districts (like Seattle) are take aggressive steps to hold back many students (20% of high school sophomores here).

Petrilli is tough on Friedman for 'forgetting the punchline' by not making specific recommendations for educational reform, but "What to Do" should be a topic on everybody's minds now.

What we would suggest is that today's students would benefit by an specific emphasis on individualized learning. As with the blogosphere, isolated facts are not really the kings of content, but rather novel insights, interesting opinions, and personal stories are. We should help students understand themselves better (metacognition) and acquire the skills they seek for their particular vision of the future.

Over the next few weeks, we'll share some of ideas about educational change and how to encourage creative thinking, and hopefully we'll get some input from you as well. In North Carolina, we talked about "Habits of Creativity" and we'll share some of those ideas. The conventional classroom has not tended to emphasize creative or individual thinking, but that is what the new digital marketplace seems to be calling for.

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