What’s a great country like the US doing with an education system like this?

Yesterday, in the process of being interviewed by Dee McCrorey for her forthcoming book, Innovation in a Reinvented World, we started talking about  job prospects for Gen X, Millenials and future generations.  That led me to seek out the most recent version of Shift Happens, a video on future trends with mind-boggling statistics. Whereas Baby Boomers grew up expecting to have one career which might well be in one company, it is now believed that today’s young professionals can expect to have 10-14 jobs by the time they are 38.  And based on the fact that the top 10 jobs in 2010 didn’t exist in 2004, it’s realistic to assume that many of those future jobs don’t exist today.

The US education system is struggling to do its job.  As of 2009, one study found that US students ranked 22nd in science, 27th in math, and 33 in reading.  In lower grades, the push to teach to the test (thanks to “No child left behind”) has children memorizing facts and figures rather than learning how to learn.   In higher ed, some disciplines like engineering have so many required courses that students have little room to explore other subjects.  Yet, given the explosion of new technologies, it’s projected that half of what they learn in the 1st year of school will be irrelevant by the time they’re in their 3rd year of studies.

And what are we doing to respond? Thanks to the financial meltdown of the last few years, education programs at all levels are experiencing more funding cuts. Focus on the short-term results is putting our long-term future in serious jeopardy.  The US is already losing its innovative edge, ranking 11th in the 2010 Insead Global Innovation Study.  Yes, there are many factors impacting our performance and I will write about others in the future.  But for now- what can be done to better prepare the next generation for the opportunities and challenges ahead?

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