For nations to remain competitive, it is necessary to develop a highly educated population with the range of critical technical skills to adjust to today's dynamic economy. While there is no question as to the direction that the economy is heading, one must question whether or not the methodology used to get there is appropriate. The methodology that needs to be questioned is the current state of the post-secondary education system and if it is effective enough to provide the skills required. It seems that, unfortunately, it is not.
The current post-secondary education system is failing not only the new economic paradigm but those individuals who are searching for how to acquire the knowledge to effectively compete in today's economy. How is the current post-secondary education system failing? The numerous reasons include:
(1) Rote Learning Instead Of Analytical Skill Development: The current post-secondary education system is still based on centuries old principles that rely on rote learning. While rote learning was an effective means at imparting knowledge, technological advances have changed the importance of this type learning in education.
Knowledge that was once distributed through rote learning is now distributed via the swipe of a touchscreen. Today's students are looking for an education that provides them with the capabilities to adapt to the changing economic conditions. This means more emphasis on analytical skill development. Unfortunately, the current post-secondary education system is still grounded in rote learning, thus sending a generation of graduates unprepared into today's dynamic workforce.
(2) Value for Money is Declining (e.g. Accreditation Creep): Years ago, post secondary education was something special and unique in the workforce. When one held a bachelor degree, it meant the individual put a significant amount of time and effort to acquire knowledge and analytical skills that differentiated them from the rest. Today, however, a bachelor degree is the minimum education level required for any position. However, the cost of education continues to rise which begs the question: How and when will the post secondary education system start to spin out of control?
(3) Systemic Misuse: Increasingly, educational accreditation is used by employers as a cheap and easy filter to eliminate bright-eyed candidates looking for full-time employment opportunities. If a candidate doesn't have a bachelor degree in computer science (although he or she has many years of programming experience), unfortunately he or she doesn't qualify. Educational accreditation is increasingly being misused to turn individuals into square widgets and force them to conform to the needs of corporations.
(4) Mounting Student Debt: As tuition costs continue to skyrocket beyond inflation, students are being saddled with increasingly unmanageable amount of debt while job prospects dim and starting wages shrink. Increasingly, the current post secondary education system is acting as a ball and chain for individuals looking to succeed in today's dynamic economic environment.
(5) Lack of Personalization and Customization: In a technological society increasingly becoming accustomed to personalization and customization, it is disheartening to see that the post secondary education system has not followed suit. Post-secondary institutions continue to teach using the same methodologies and processes that were used centuries ago. There has been little advancement in terms of personalizing education to the abilities of individuals. Instead, individuals are treated as a nameless number. Those that succeed in reaching the end goal are awarded a degree. Those who do not are cast aside like yesterday's news.
(6) Artificial Scarcity: The other major issue with the current post-secondary education system is the fact that they are unable to keep up with increasing demand from employers. In many respects, they have created artificial scarcity particularly in hot sectors such as technology, thus artificially forcing up expenses for employers.
While many educators and defenders of the current post-secondary education system point to the increasing number of graduates available around the globe, they fail recognize the increasing number of individuals who aren't making it through the current system or where the system has completely failed them. With advancements in society and technology, there should be a higher percentage of individuals who are ready to take on the challenges of the new economic paradigm.
If the post secondary education system is broken, then what can be done to fix it to enable better opportunities for everyone in the new economic paradigm? While these fixes may seem simple, they are in many respects difficult to implement.
(1) Increase Affordability: Efforts must be made to reduce the cost of post-secondary education. Saddling individuals with debt for an education they must acquire to obtain employment is not only limiting individual growth but societal growth as well.
(2) Increase Personalization: Post-secondary institutions must find ways to increase the personalization of education. Although we have seen efforts in the current system with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), more still needs to be done. If every member of society needs to be technologically literate to succeed professionally, then we need to provide as many avenues as possible for this success.
(3) Eliminate Misuse: Corporations need to stop using degrees as an easy and ineffective means of filtering individuals for employment. Many successful individual can vouch that it is not the degree that makes an individual a success, but rather the individual themselves.
(4) Increase Analytical Skill Development: Today's student needs skills which will provide them with life-long learning abilities. Hence, it is increasingly critical that today's post-secondary institutions switch from a rote learning model to one that emphasizes analytical skill development.
While there is no doubt that education is increasingly critical in today's knowledge economy, increasingly the education system is becoming an impediment for students to acquire the necessary skills and is failing to adapt to the new economic paradigm. What is increasingly critical is to reform the education system to allow students to not only develop the right skills but also to minimize debt loads. Without education reform, the bright promise of the knowledge economy will become a distant hope.