American classrooms lag behind Europe and East Asian nations.
What’s in the future for elementary and secondary schools in the United States? American classrooms need extensive reform because they lag far behind Europe and East Asian nations in international testing surveys, such as the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA), conducted every three years by OECD (Organization of Economic and Co-operative Development). PISA questionnaires – given world-wide to 15-year-olds in Math, Science, and Language – indicate that USA pupils test “below average” in all three subjects. Here’s my prediction of what we’ll be seeing in USA ‘s schools in the next 10-20 years:
We Use Finland As A Role Model — Every three years, the small northern nation of Finland amazes the rest of the planet by besting all rivals in the PISA tests. In 2007, Finland placed first in Science by a significant 5% margin, second in Language, and second in Math. This accomplishment occurred even though Finnish students attend school only 190 days per year (far less than the Japanese 243), and the government spends only $7,500 per student (the USA spends $8,700). Finnish students also have no more than 30 minutes of homework per day, the children don’t study reading and writing until they’re seven, and classroom atmosphere is extremely casual, with teachers addressed by their first names, and no shoes required.
The primary reason given for Finnish success is its teachers, who are selected from the top 10-15% of college graduates and exceptionally-trained with 4-6 years of graduate school (a Master’s in Education is required). Finnish teachers are rewarded for this extra work with far-above-American wages ($45-50/hr for elementary teachers and $75-80/hr for secondary) and a societal status in Finland that is second to none – not even physicians are more esteemed. It is becoming increasingly clear that the USA cannot improve its K12 programs without enlisting the best-and-the-brightest in future faculties. Look for a similar Master’s Degree requirement in the USA , with increased pay as compensation.
We Adopt The Metric System – Question: what nations Do Not use the metric system? Answer: Burma, Liberia, and the United States. Why are we still clinging to a measuring system that’s outdated and primitive, when our only companions in this farce are Burma and Liberia? No justifiable reason, and the fiasco will end in the upcoming decade. Futurist Thomas Frey of the Da Vinci Institute has pointed out that our children’s educational progress is slowed down by our use of this anachronistic system with its illogical formulas (128 fluid ounces per gallon, 36 inches per yard, 5,280 feet per mile – few adults retain this complexity). Our youngsters would progress quicker in mathematics if we offered them the sensible, easy-to-memorize base-10 system, which was initially adopted by revolutionary France in 1791. Prediction: we’ll be creeping – centimeter by centimeter – towards the rest of the civilized metric world in the next decade.
We Return to the Local K-8 – Urban children in the United States are frequently bused around, dislocated, and traumatized by attending three separate schools in thirteen years: K-5, 6-8 (Middle School), 9-12 (High School). This community-destroying concept is rare outside of our nation (like our measuring system), and the middle school notion is uniquely our own. Unfortunately, it is also disastrous. Invented in the 1960’s by social scientists, Middle Schools are now generally viewed as a mistake, an opinion garnered by the sudden plummet in Middle School test scores and increased problems in discipline and truancy. Not surprisingly, the yanking of hormone-addled prepubescent children out of a established social structure and plopping them into a strange new environment is detrimental to their learning process. Finland – our valedictorian role model – offers a completely different pathway: everyone attends a neighborhood school until at least 10th grade. Numerous American cities are already abandoning their middle school programs: Philadelphia , Boston, Cleveland, Milwaukee, San Antonio, CIncinnati, New Orleans, and others. My forecast is that busing will cease – its also hugely expensive – and Middle Schools will dwindle and disappear.
We Welcome the Robot Teachers – The second-highest nation in PISA-scoring is South Korea (first in Language, second in Math, tenth in Science) and they’ve got their own innovations that the USA will emulate. South Korea (and its neighbor Japan ) are presently placing robot-teachers in elementary school classrooms, where they’re warmly welcomed by the children. South Korea’s is a cheerful-looking R2-D2-type of robot with a dual purpose: 1) to serve as an English language instructor that could eventually replace the 30,000 native English-speaking teachers that presently reside in South Korea, and 2) to be a teaching assistant in preschools and kindergartens, by singing songs, reading story books, maintaining simple conversations, and showing videos on a monitor on its stomach. Japan’s entry is a female human-resembling android named “Teacher Saya” – who gives class assignments, takes roll call, yells “be quiet” and scolds the children in several languages. She’ll learn new skills quickly and one of her future goals is to inspire student interest in technology and science. Forecast: these Asian robots, and USA-built alternatives, will be arriving in our classrooms in the next 4-7 years.
Goodbye Textbooks, Hello Flexbooks – Heavy, outdated, and pricey textbooks are disappearing like the dinosaurs – replaced by cheap, easy-to-update, interactive “flexbooks” that are enclosed in zip-drives and plugged into computers or printers. South Korea is the leader in the international flexbook pack, with California and Texas the forerunners in the USA . Prediction: by 2020 the majority of K12 educational material in the USA will be digitized and transported lightly in pockets, instead of dragged about in spine-crippling backpacks loaded with paper products.
Kids Transfer to Online HomeSchools – Nearly a half-million children are already learning online via “cyber schools” with an annual increase of an estimated 15-30%. Why are they swarming to e-learning? Multiple reasons. Many kids prefer learning from patient computers, rather than flawed human teachers. Others are happy to avoid the bullying and dysfunctional social circles of brick-and-mortar schools. All enjoy the self-directed, self-paced format of online education, especially if they’re faster or slower learners than their age group, or have specialized learning requirements. Computerized learning also offers a wider variety of classes, and many parents prefer if it’s convenient because they want to control their children’s cerebral intake. The primary drawback of online homeschools is the absence of peer social interaction, but “homeschool” clubs, play groups, and study centers are quickly forming to alleviate this issue. The research company Ambient Insight believes there sill be 10.5 million K-12 online students by 2014. Desperate to maintain enrollment, many school districts are providing classes with a stay-at-home option.
My long-term prediction?
The potential of online learning is unlimited, especially with constantly-improving educational materials. By 2030 perhaps 1/3 or 2/5 of K-12 students will be studying at home, online.