How can our education better prepare us to compete in an increasingly globalised world?
Discussions about accounting for globalization in education are nothing new, but the world in which they are being discussed has advanced significantly. The generation being educated in our schools are far more technically able than the people teaching them and thus the education they are receiving isn’t a technical one. Sure it may implement elements of technology like smart-boards, online resources and in some extreme cases individual tablet or laptop computers but in most situations this is completely disproportionate to how far we’ve come. Most students today have no idea of the inner workings of the devices and services they’ll use for the rest of their lives.
But it’s worse than the increase not being proportional: in 2009 the US National Center for Education Statistics determined that Computer Science was the only subject that decreased in popularity over the two decades previous and that only 1.4% of high-school students were being examined in the subject. This then related to census figures such as over 75% of households having a computer with internet access and then in addition to this the massive amount of public resources available though libraries and educational institutions means almost every student has access to a computational device in some form.
This is a terrible mismatch of figures especially considering that a wealth of technical teaching aids are available for public use: the £15 Raspberry Pi computer, free Linux distributions like Ubuntu for use on older hardware and online programming courses like those on Udaciy and CodeAcademy.
Instead, at least in the English speaking world, we focus almost all our globalised education effort on teaching our children key European languages. French, Spanish and German are taught at 89%, 25% and 10% (respectively) of UK primary schools while a language more commonly spoken (and thus more useful in an increasingly globalised world) like Chinese is offered at less than 3%.
Then there’s the issue of the return on investment of teaching a foreign language to native English speaking students in a world that’s dominated by English. Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago Boaz Keysar specialises in communication and the use of language. He (and others) have analysed the retention of English speaking students learning languages compared to non-natives learning English and found that it’s a poor comparison. With the domination of English throughout the internet most fail to keep hold of the skill, much less utilise it. He does however stress that learning a language for personal or cultural gain isn’t a negative thing and is something he actively endorses himself.
The combination of these to issues leads me to believe that we can change our education to better suit us in our increasingly globalised world by shifting the focus from foreign language (though I believe it should still remain a key element) to a focus on technology, computer science and programming. These are the tools that are shaping our future and it will be a travesty if they are tools that future generations cannot utilise.