Innovation Gap

studentBusiness spends a lot of money on innovation.  Microsoft spends 7 billion per year on research and development Google spends about 2 Billion per year.  In fact, most of the biggest companies in the world are spending about 10% of their revenue on R&D.  They know that an investment in their products is critical to success and that is the standard in today’s economy.  If you want to succeed you have to be flexible, nimble and you have to innovate.

The purpose of our education system is to prepare our children for this environment.  This is a world where methods and technologies turn over every two years on average.  This means that the technology (hardware, software and methodologies) we use today will be obsolete in two years.  We are failing our children horribly!

A few years ago, a friend of mine was applying for a job at a tech company in Vancouver.  This is one of those companies that spends a ton of money on R&D and employee development.  The interview process was intense to say the least.  There were multiple sessions of interviews that lasted for hours at a time.  There were test cases and scenarios that had to be dealt with in a hands on manner.  This wasn’t theory, this was throwing him into a situation that was very much like a real every day situation and asking him to perform.  He got the job and is well paid to do something he loves.  The interesting thing is, he doesn’t have a University degree.  What’s even more interesting is that a degree in computer science would have been no help at all in landing this job.  How could a 4 year degree possibly be of any value when everything learned in the first two years is obsolete by the time you start your third year.

In Canada, the 2012 Federal budget included education innovation funding of approximately 100 Million dollars per year for five years. To put that in perspective, in 2007 Apple spent 800 Million in R&D.  A single tech company spends 8 times more on innovation than an entire country does on helping to improve the horribly outdated education system we have.  There is simply no way that we are ever going to prepare people to work in today’s economy with that kind of effort.

More Education

educationThis image really hits home with a lot of people and anyone who has listened to CBC Radio lately may have heard the interview with Pasi Stahlberg where he discusses the education system in Finland where standardized testing is almost unheard of.

So what’s the problem with education in North America.  Well, first off, I think that our education system from Kindergarden to University has been designed to accommodate the Industrial Revolution.  I don’t know if you are aware but we’ve moved from the Industrial Revolution to the Digital Revolution and perhaps we are even moving beyond that into something completely different.  To put in in perspective, our current education system would be akin to teaching doctors techniques like blood letting and thinking that we’re doing a good job.

In reality, if our current system were truly successful and designed to allow for equality regardless of sex, age, race or religion we would probably find ourselves in a collapsing society.  Imagine for a second that we had an extremely high success rate in our high schools with a low dropout rate and people actually being educated to meet the social goals that we set (that of being a high paid professional).  Who would do the work that we all depend on in our every day lives?  Who would cook food in restaurants?  Who would wash dishes? Who would dry clean clothes? Who would sweep and mop floors or pick up trash?  Isn’t it odd that we have a tendency to treat people who do the things that nobody wants to do as failures or underachievers?  Shouldn’t they be praised for taking on a task that so many of us would prefer not to do?  I have met people who love being waiters or cab drivers and the biggest problem they have is that other people see them as unskilled or lacking ambition.  The reality is, people who are passionate about their work are often very skilled but our culture doesn’t recognize those skills as valuable… unless they all disappeared.  Then we would find them extremely valuable.

In our education system we treat our teachers little better than high paid babysitters.  They are underpaid, overworked and forced to teach a curriculum designed to produce higher results on standardized tests rather than meet the needs of individual students or produce individuals who realize their potential and find a meaningful place within our society.  I think we need to elevate teachers in our society.  We need to make sure that they are very well educated, very well paid and given the authority to design education programs that meet the needs of the students rather than try to produce the highest possible results on standardized tests.  What if we gave teachers the opportunity to treat their job like an art form?  What if we evaluated their success based on the overall happiness of the students they taught rather than how many of them scored high on standardized test which do NOT provide a guarantee of a happy fulfilling career?  I wonder how many social problems we could solve just by teaching children and young adults in a different way.

I know that it sounds like some kind of fantasy that could just never be achieved.  I admit that it would be very difficult but it wouldn’t be impossible.  To make this kind of change would mean that we would have discard our class system way of thinking.  If we gave up on the idea that wealth and power are the key to happiness I think we would be able to allow teachers to actually teach.  Imagine, if they were allowed to help foster creative thought and innovation in all areas of our society.  I wonder what we could achieve.