As I write this, there's an ongoing battle in Congress over how many highly skilled workers need to be granted visas to work in the U.S. Congress wants about half of many foreign workers as are needed. Congress seems to be in denial about the need and the current ability of American workforce to meet that need. What skills are in short supply? Engineering and science professionals.
Engineering and science graduates are critical for running and growing U.S. businesses. Yet, we've known for years U.S. public school students aren't drawn to college engineering and science programs in sufficient numbers to meet the current or future needs of employers. It's a bit ironic given college graduates are wondering, "where are the jobs?"
I have long been critical of our public education system's effectiveness in helping the U.S. address our education need. I am no fan of the U.S. federal government's "No Child Left Behind" program as (as an unintended consequence) too many children have been left behind. The program prioritized test taking over skills and know-how critical to success later in life. And, now, fraud has been alleged.
In March 2013, 36 teachers and administrators in Georgia were arrested for falsifying test results to ensure that the students showed improvement so the teachers could earn financial bonuses and the school district could qualify for additional federal funding. It appears it was easy (after the test) for teachers to change incorrect answers marked with the infamous #2 pencil to the correct answers. This occurred at 58 schools in the district and appears to be part of a larger conspiracy. A news account suggests this is far from an isolated incident—this is apparently pervasive throughout the U.S. Just how did the students benefit from this? You know the answer.
Life isn't about taking tests. Life is about being able to solve real problems where there are no pre-determined answers to choose from. Further, life is about understanding the process for solving problems. It's not as simple as "question, answer, right or wrong." If a student doesn't understand the process of how they arrived at a right or wrong answer, they have little chance to improve.
We know that many children get lost in math, a key to careers in engineering and science. Some parents turn to after-school paid programs or mentors to help their students get their grades up or to improve their proficiency. Yet, those programs have done little to change the nature of how students learn and grow in the classroom. More attention focused on a sub-optimal instructional approach can overcome gaps. But, there is no disruptive, game-changing paradigm shift with this approach to educating children.
I recently came to know of Tabtor, a company based in New Jersey that is driving innovation in the education and learning space by providing math tutoring via tablet. Raj Valli, the CEO, believes education is stuck in the 19th century. His company is leading with math but sees tremendous potential in many areas of education. He is gaining customers in private schools in the U.S. and India initially as the decision processes to use his technology are much easier in private rather than public school systems, particularly in the U.S. They also have a version available directly to students and families for personalized math learning here in the U.S. [Note: I surveyed a small group of parents using the home version of the product; you can see the survey results here.]
Here are the essential problems that educators encounter that Raj and his team are addressing:
- Teachers are forced to teach to a bell curve; there's no personalization in teaching or learning.
- Too much weight is given to correct answers while little attention is paid to the process of how a student is coming up with an answer.
- A student either gets an answer right or wrong, but "right" or "wrong" reveals little about how a student arrived at an answer or what learning obstacle they may have hit.
- Students fall behind when their learning slows and they can't keep up. The one-size-fits-all teaching process serves no one particularly well.
- Teacher engagement isn't at a high level. They don't have insights into why students are struggling; they merely know that they are.
- There's little or no remediation available to students who fall behind. All students are treated the same and graded on a curve. Current teaching processes engage students as long as they are doing well; disengagement occurs when learning slows or stops.
Imagine how the world would be if we still had to use typewriters and snail mail to communicate instead of using computers and emails? Unfortunately, in education, most problems exist because teachers have not had similar advanced technology tools to help them personalize their instruction. Teachers have been constantly asked to do more with less and less.
Tabtor is built for tablet computers, e.g., Apple iPad, and will soon be offered on Android and Windows 8 tablets.
Tabtor is not only being integrated in schools, it is also available to students and parents outside the school systems via the personalized math program they currently offer on the Apple iPads.
If the U.S. is to move the needle in engineering and science, the education process needs to be reinvented for the 21st century. While it might seem that this is as complex as putting a man on the moon, it need not be. It merely takes will, determination, a sense of urgency and innovation to help us get there.
[Image: Flickr user Daniel Kulinski]