Friday, July 4, 2014

The education gap

A recent article in NY times points out correctly that there is a subtle difference between the statement that “the US has the best universities” and “of the top 25 universities, most are in the US.” Indeed, an education gap has opened up between the very top and the average available college education in the US. Many believe that the recently fashionable online education trend will even out the field, making college education fully democratic. Educators, policy-makers, rating agencies and the public appear to be missing several important considerations here.

Before one can measure and rate the outcome of a process, one has to define the objectives of the process itself. In the last century, education was supposed to train graduates for “jobs.” However, in an economy that does not create many jobs, the objective of education has to be fundamentally redefined. Today, education has to be something that prepares graduates for the non-jobs – add value to society through innovation and advancement of knowledge and ideas. These are volatile endeavors – most offering no stability and often result in catastrophic failures. In a jobless economy, the next generation has to be taught skills that are not necessarily related to parroting out standardized answers to Arithmetic, Physics, Chemistry and Biology questions (PISA scores, for example) – or churning out engineers and doctors like perfectly predictable stack of pancakes in the “International house of pancakes.”  High scores in standardized exams and high graduation rates in environments that are designed to create “bricks in the wall,” are not good metrics for the success of education.

It is important to fully redefine the objectives of modern education before one could conclude on its effectiveness. The content drilled into the brains of the merry college goers of today, is largely a commodity and it generally correlates badly to eventual success. It is the ability to look outside the content and find relationships among apparently disconnected fields that will hold the key for future success. On that measure, the US schools, still offer much higher flexibility than the antiquated systems of the East. Further, the top schools in the US continue to command the lion’s share of innovation in the world – a true measure of how good education is.