Well, that’s the comment that a former Harvard president, Derek Bok, once made: that the two were about as easy to do. His replacement, Larry Summers, wrote in the NY Times recently that in 21st century universities “students (still) take four courses a term, each meeting for about three hours a week, usually with a teacher standing in front of the room. Students are evaluated on the basis of examination essays handwritten in blue books and relatively short research papers. Instructors are organized into departments, most of which bear the same names they did when the grandparents of today’s students were undergraduates. A vast majority of students still major in one or two disciplines centered on a particular department”.
And so the cemetery of education sits. In a recent Huffington Post article, Laura Shaw suggested that there are entrenched interests that keep the system as it is. One thing simply screams as intuitively true: in a world that is remaking itself on so many fronts, surely the approach to what education is and how it should be achieved needs to be rethought. Innovation guru Seth Godin just published an online manifesto arguing that “School was invented to create a constant stream of compliant factory workers to the growing businesses of the 1900s. It continues to do an excellent job at achieving this goal, but it’s not a goal we need to achieve any longer.”
So what are the new goals? Well, I’ve written about that in this space for two years now. The question is, why is there so little demand out there? Why are parents willing to put up with a system that is so clearly out-of touch, out-of-synch, and utterly broken? Stories abound about the decay of the education system. Creativity experts decry the destructive style of conventional schools which strip all the inventiveness and engagement that is natural to people. Yet, the system persists.
Larry Summers identified six elements of an appropriate education, if we were to make a change. Some of his focus is on: processing information over retaining facts, collaboration over “keep your eyes on your own work”, and active learning. Not a bad start.