Originally Posted On: https://www.cydihs.org/news/re-imagine-education


Is the education system in America broken? Many people will automatically say, “yes.” But I believe that if you examine the position closely, you will see that it is not necessarily “broken.” By saying it is broken, it would mean that schools have failed to accomplish their originally intended purpose. Over the years, there have been many “school improvement,” or “reform” efforts that really didn’t change much. That’s because they were taking an outdated model and trying to fit it into a changed world. Schools have accomplished their intended purpose, but that purpose may no longer be relevant.

When the school system in America was developed, it was done in a different time, and certainly for a different purpose. If you analyze schools in the context that they were originally created, you start to see why the failures happened. Several hundred years ago, societies shifted away from agriculture and toward a more industrial economy. As a result, a new bourgeoise class developed. Business owners were in this class and needed laborers to do tasks (while paying them as little as possible). Employers saw schooling as a way to create better workers. They emphasized lessons on punctuality, following directions, and tolerance for long hours of tedious work. Over time, they added curriculum ideas based on religious ideals. They used schooling as a way to create good patriots and future soldiers. They were creating the workers that were needed for this newly industrialized society.

We’re now in the 21st century, and these schools (although somewhat reformed over time), no longer fit the needs of 21st-century students. The system itself is not broken, but it was created for a different time, and a different purpose. Think of it this way: it’s like trying to use a hammer to cut a piece of wood. It may eventually get the job done, but the tool was created for a completely different task.

Today’s Generation Z students (born between 1995 and 2014) are quite different than those of us who grew up in the 1970’s. Certainly, every generation is different, but Generation Z is a new breed. For most Gen Z-ers, traditional education will not work. Due to technological advances, they know more and have access to vast amounts of information. The modern cell phone gives them access to more information than the greatest library in the world.

More importantly, they learn differently than previous generations. They push back on the status quo, and are less likely to accept mindless compliance. They do not keep a focus on things that they don’t find meaningful. They also tend to be entrepreneurial and want to make a difference in the world. And that world moves fast. Snapchat posts are gone in a day. Twitter is 140 characters or less. Instagram gives instant access to people around the world. Video games have become ubiquitous and are able to entertain their 8 second attention span. All of this provides them unique and instant feedback. This feedback is much better than what they receive in most classrooms where students often must wait days (or weeks) for feedback. We have not done a good job of letting students know they did well, or why they didn’t. Instead, we have focused on grades.

The education world has always recognized that children learn differently than adults. Schools were developed for the student who sat quietly and listened to the instructor (who they assumed knew everything). Adults, on the other hand, come to the classroom will a great deal of life experience. They also come to the classroom with specific goals and objectives. They’re not interested in learning things that aren’t working toward those objectives. Children today are a lot more like those adults. Because they have access to so much information (that they can retrieve instantly), it’s almost as if they have more life experience because they can watch both positive and negative experiences on their phone.

In a study done by Barnes and Noble College, today’s students refuse to be passive learners. Gen Z-ers prefer hands-on learning environments and want to be directly involved in the learning process. They expect on-demand services, that are available at any time.


Students want low barriers to access.

Students today are also often more career-focused earlier on in their educational life span. They aren’t interested in showing up for class, sitting through a lecture, and taking notes (which they memorize for an exam, and then forget). Instead, they expect to be fully engaged in the learning process. Because they have access to unlimited amounts of information, they are more self-reliant. This helps them focus their career choices early on. A truly engaged learning process is one that is meeting the needs of every student there. As any teacher can tell you, it is wonderful when you see the “light bulb” come on over a student’s head. When the entire classroom is active, and “light bulbs” are coming on for everyone, you’re seeing engaged learning. The students know this, and if you are not keeping them engaged, they will shut down.

Even young people who aren’t necessarily great students are well versed in current events, music, popular culture, and global trends. They are well aware of the world around them. Because of this, they are already considering what their place in this world will be. Think back to the analogy of cutting a piece of wood with a hammer. It will work, but it will take a long time. It is much better to use the correct tool to accomplish the task. With the Generation Z students, we need to stop using the hammer, and switch to a better tool.

One of the most important characteristics of our current society may well be the incredible speed with which it changes. Whether things evolve in a positive, or a negative way, change itself constitutes a challenge to ideas, institutions, and people. Innovation takes places at a breath-taking pace. Futurists have estimated that accumulated knowledge and information doubles every 12 hours! Traditional teaching tools and methods cannot keep up with this amount of information. There is simply no way that a teacher can be the absolute authority on a subject: information is changing too quickly. It has become essential that we include technology in the classroom. Student’s need other sources of information than the teacher.

Yesterday’s revolutionary new product has become common-place today, and will be outdated tomorrow. People are constantly required to revise their skills in order to adapt to the changing circumstances. Think about the iPhone, which was first released in 2007. Since then, touch screen technology has entered all parts of our lives. Our work-lives have certainly been impacted. Nurses use touch pads to write patient charts, FedEx drivers use touch pads to get delivery signatures, and convenience store clerks use them for inventory. They are everywhere, and it would be difficult to function in the world without at least a basic understanding on the technology.

Unemployment and the disparity between the haves and the have-nots can occur because not everyone can cope with this constant need for re-education. And honestly, it is very easy to learn something, and then go to work to do the same thing every day. Especially if someone doesn’t have a passion for their work. As traditional agricultural and industrial jobs disappear, employees need to adapt to the jobs that are more based on problem solving and critical thinking (and are often more intellectually demanding).

Is there a way to “re-construct” education to meet these needs? The Community Youth Development Institute High School (CYDI) has completely redesigned their program around these ideas. CYDI puts the students at the center of the curriculum. Students have the opportunity to earn their high school diploma while pursuing their own interests and goals. There is a lot of flexibility, and each student’s learning plan is personalized.

Students learn real life applied and technical skills in hands-on labs that include Construction, Multimedia, Digital Graphics, Fashion, Culinary, Industrial Design, and Personal Care. Students actually work on projects relevant to their real lives, and relevant to developing their community.

CYDI core course work is integrated to allow students to demonstrate competency and accelerate their learning. Students work with industry professionals on industry standard equipment and software. CYDI Entrepreneurship mentors and coaches provide each student training and development on their unique business ideas. CYDI also partners will local employers to ensure students are prepared for the “work world.” They also help place students into jobs with good pay, and opportunity for career advancement.

Education needs to be more action-oriented and grounded in solving real-world problems. We need systemic change to the “one size fits all” system we have now.  As a parent of three, an entrepreneur, and an experienced teacher and school administrator, I ponder what is wrong with education. My answer is either “Everything,” or “Nothing.” Everything is wrong because the system is clearly not working for students, employers or our society. Nothing is wrong with our educational system because it is working exactly as it was designed.

The current design of education is the problem. It was not built with an end in mind: it was built to an end that is unacceptable for purposes of a healthy, functioning society. The time is now to commit the time, energy and resources to re-imagine education and create the schools our children deserve.

The Community Youth Development Institute (CYDI) offers hands-on learning as a way to encourage student creativity, imagination, and group communication in schools. We believe that providing students with hands-on opportunities to design, create, problem-solve, and construct are fundamental elements for engaging learners. We firmly believe that career dreams should be attainable for everyone. No matter what a student’s needs, CYDI helps to ensure students are capable of attaining dream careers.