Yesterday, I sat before my computer screen pondering different ways to contribute to my Twitter feed. Which articles or words of wisdom should I retweet? What link should I provide from my website blog. Should I delve into the murky waters of using a hashtag? I have to admit that mastering the hashtag skill is still a work in progress.
As I looked over the list of popular hashtags for the day, I contemplated my response to #WhatIf. I glanced over the list of previously posted responses. My initial thoughts were already taken. What was missing? I sat motionless. I considered moving on. Silly me. How could I forget one of my passions- international education.
If everyone was miraculously provided the opportunity for a quality education, what would happen? Even when one dismisses the economic, political, and social issues that forestall such a fanciful dream, the ramifications would be endless. Many of the factors that cause divisiveness between people would be removed, but new concerns and problems would inevitably develop. Yet, the human condition would be vastly improved because ignorance and illiteracy would be erased.
How would the newly educated people respond?
Would governments find other ways to suppress the masses?
Educators, world leaders, business executives, and writers continually explore ways to reform educational policy. Everyone realizes that an educated society is the key to a prosperous future. In a September 2012 Huffington Post article, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated- “We must not deny the promise of quality education to any child. The stakes are too high. When we put education first, we can end wasted potential and look forward to stronger and better societies for all.”
Despite worldwide efforts to invest in education, over 61 million children still do not attend school. What, if anything, can be done to lessen this outrageous number?
Although the situation is not as dire in the US as in other countries, many American leaders have advocated educational reforms that are rooted in economic principles of choice and market incentives. Oftentimes, this approach has not netted the projected results. Schools located in lower socio-economic neighborhoods continue to struggle. In “Why Don’t We Follow Lead of Countries Well in Front of Us?” education writer, Maureen Downey, cited Marc Tucker’s (a leader in the standards- driven education reform movement) research. It is Tucker’s contention that the opportunities for these children are limited. “School choice is actually severely restricted in the United States even where it appears to be available. Poor kids cannot choose to get their schooling in rich kids’ school districts.”
Better funded schools will obviously provide more services for their students. Less affluent schools usually cater to a higher needs audience that will naturally increase the overall cost factor. Far too often, this scenario causes budget restraints that diminish the possibility of offering competitive teachers’ salaries, keeping current with teaching materials and technology, and maintaining the school’s infrastructure. Few exceptionally qualified teachers will gravitate toward such a scenario or more importantly be retained for long. The burnout rate at such schools is enormous. Without well trained, experienced, and innovative teachers, lower socio-economic schools will continue to flounder and not meet their academic objectives.
Finding an answer to this problem is complex. Some may follow Brandon Wiley’s assertion outlined in Education Week‘s blog posting, “Will the Next ‘Education President’ Please Stand Up?” Wiley believes that education reform needs to be mandated by the president. In his opinion neither presidential candidate has articulated a long term (10-20 year) vision for the American education system. Previous endeavors such as Obama’s Race to the Top competition and Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation have been besieged by controversy. Will a new comprehensive decades’ long plan be able to address all of the pending issues? Should the education of our youth be delegated to state governments, the federal government, or a combination?
Many leaders in business feel that America’s competitive edge is slipping. In an August 2012 New York Times article, titled, “Improving American Education from a Global Perspective.” Thomas L. Friedman quoted Jon Schnur, the chairman of America Achieves. He stated that “The entry ticket to the middle class today is a postsecondary education of some kind.”
Despite this important fact, many high school graduates remain ill prepared for higher education. I witnessed firsthand how a significant number of students in my Intro to Education class at a local community college could not write a cohesive paragraph. Some of these prospective teachers told me that K-6 teachers were not required to master writing skills. They became overly argumentative when I downgraded their papers for substandard English skills. I gave each of my students the opportunity to rewrite their papers as many times as necessary. I provided detailed feedback on each paper that I received. Few took advantage of this opportunity to improve their writing.
In this same article Friedman advocates a system that will allow parents to compare schools around the world. Without having more details, it is difficult for me to imagine a global test that could accurately and without bias track the performance of all schools. There is already too much emphasis on teaching to the test. What will one more test do to this lopsided equation that frequently puts test performance as the sole criteria for success?
Are American students falling behind their counterparts in other parts of the world? Data from the Boston Consulting Group ranked the educational competitiveness of many countries. Their findings show that the US and the UK continue to be dominant when their higher education institutions are ranked in terms of money invested in education, the number of students enrolled, the number of 1st time employed engineers, and the percentage of top ranked colleges and universities.
In contrast to this optimistic report is a July 2012 report published by Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance. This research indicates that foreign students are surpassing their American peers. However, on closer examination it is revealed that a few American subgroups are keeping pace. As mentioned previously, factors associated with lower-socioeconomic status can significantly impact students’ performance. It is not known how this factor or other criteria affected the data.
While the situation in this country is hardly ideal, I agree with Michael J Silverstein (Boston Consulting Group) and Abheek Singhi’s (Boston Consulting Group)contention that the stakes are higher in countries such as India and China. When I lived in India, I observed that there were a limited number of quality K-12 Indian schools and a minuscule number of openings at outstanding institutions of higher education. Thus, aspiring secondary students at private Indian schools were bombarded with frequent tests and many elementary school parents became obsessed with finding the best school.
Unlike the U.S. where the majority of children receive a public education, anyone with financial means opted to send their children to a private school and also hired tutors to assist with test taking skills. Less fortunate families had to rely on an inferior public school system. I met an American Ivy League college graduate who was working as an intern for an international education foundation. She candidly expressed her dismay regarding the Indian public school system. It was common for her to visit public schools where many teachers were absent. The instruction she had the opportunity to observe was substandard. Most of the people I encountered who had a limited command of the English language had attended an Indian public school.
In 2010, I had the unique opportunity to teach at a highly acclaimed K-12 international boarding school in southern India. My American teacher training (University of Colorado, M.A.) prepared me for this multicultural teaching experience with up to date techniques in teaching literacy and English as a second language. To my disappointment, the methods used by many of my Indian colleagues were archaic and ineffective. Most of my students had learned either Hindi or another language prior to learning English. The vast majority of the teachers were ill equipped to handle the dynamics of this situation and relied on a curriculum that favored grammar over a multi-tiered approach. They took a cookie cutter approach that was devoid of differentiated instruction. A significant emphasis was placed on regurgitating facts instead of developing reading comprehension skills and analytic thinking. I was not surprised when my 5th grade students struggled in the first weeks of school when they took an international standardized test.
If my experience represents the curriculum and methods used at other private schools, Indians will continue to lag behind their American counterparts until educational reforms are made throughout the country. Teacher training, in India and elsewhere, needs to become a top priority.
For many years, I taught in the private sector without any education classes, teacher certification, or an additional endorsement. I relied on the content derived from my undergraduate education and my first master’s degree and my instincts. It was not until after I completed my graduate level classes in education that I realized the significance of quality training. The specialized instruction in education theory and methods added an extra spark to all of my endeavors.
Educational reform will require the cooperation between parents, educators, and government officials. Additional collaboration will hopefully pinpoint the remaining shortcomings and not delay developing innovative plans. Future attempts will be fruitless unless adults around the world are willing to recognize the importance of education. Parents and educators will need to remain steadfast in instilling the love of learning to the children they encounter.
Without education, the poor and the impoverished will be trapped. I will forever be touched by the masses of Indian children who live in squalor and never have the opportunity to attend school. I am equally troubled by the lower socio-economic school children in the US who are not given the same opportunities as their neighbors who may be more affluent.
Our priorities have to be reevaluated. The educational needs of our youth can no longer be shortchanged. The world would take on a new character if everyone was given the opportunity to become literate.
Yes, the hashtag—WhatIf was a great starter for a blog.
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons.
The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.
If you’re interested in travel, follow Sandra’s latest adventures on Examiner.com.