The final day of the Florida Educational Technology Conference, much like the days before it, focused on improving U.S. education in the face of an increasingly global and competitive world.

The day began with keynote sessions by ed-tech experts, including one that focused on what the nation’s next president should know, and do, about U.S. education.

During the session, the panelists discussed the ways in which attention to education and educational resources should be changed in order to improve not only the educational system, but how students learn and how educators teach.

Chris Dede, the Timothy E. Wirth Professor of Learning Technologies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and a member of Friday’s panel, said the next decade will shape the future of the U.S. economy for generations to come because the nation is at the beginning of a global knowledge-based economy. He compared the situation to the Industrial Revolution, illustrating his point by saying that the first nations to join the Industrial Revolution gained an enormous advantage.

Dede expanded on his ideas in an exclusive interview with eSchool News.

“In the same way, many people think that as we move into a global knowledge-based economy, [in The World is Flat] that Tom Friedman talks about, we’re at a similar point–the countries that get in first figure out how to do high-quality education centered around information and communication technologies, figure out how to prepare students to be effective citizens and workers,” he said. “[They] are going to gain an almost insurmountable advantage.

“And at the very time that other countries are investing in education, investing in learning technologies, thinking ahead to where the world is going, unfortunately our country is moving away from investment and in fact looking rather backwards in terms of what kind of knowledge and skills kids really need,” he said.

Dede said many countries that are succeeding in the global economy strongly link business, education, workforce development, and national policy. He noted that education has purposes other than to prepare students for the workforce, but said it’s true that many of those other purposes rely on a strong economy to succeed.

“Preparing kids to be effective leaders, employees, and entrepreneurs, is really crucial,” he said. “In these other countries, the business community is often the champion for helping the public, key stakeholders, [and] parents see that it’s important to move beyond the kinds of skills that made kids successful in industrial workplaces to instead twenty-first century skills that focus on higher order of knowledge,” he said.

“It’s difficult for educators alone to make that argument, but educators can be part of a larger team that makes that argument.”

Dede noted that federal education policy often consists of twentieth century models, and that the nation needs to move forward to twenty-first century models. National partnerships and awareness, he said, come out of the effort to understand the difference between those twentieth and twenty-first century education.

“Some of that is recognizing just how much a person’s lifestyle has changed,” he said. “When I was growing up I was prepared for the single job that it was expected that I would have all my life, then we moved to a conception that people really may have multiple jobs, now what we see but we don’t prepare people for educationally, is the concept that people might have multiple careers, not just multiple jobs, and what we see in the future that we’re really not preparing people for in education, is that people are going to invent multiple careers through their lifetimes,” he said.

“Instead of focusing on broad shallow factual knowledge, we need to prepare kids with deep thinking skills, with the ability to be flexible and creative, with a love of learning, that will sustain them as we move through all these periods of social change,” Dede said.

Part of the reason that the nation is not moving quickly in twenty-first century learning, Dede said, is because parents, students, and teachers sometimes have naïve ideas about education.

“I think, when we look back in history, this will be seen as a time of dark ages in education,” he said. “We still have a lot of very naïve ideas that people in the public believe about learning.” Dede said experts in other fields such as health and economy have succeeded in educating the public about changing concepts and ideas.

“They’ve succeeded in a kind of education that keeps the public up to date, where we in education have badly failed,” he said. “Most people in the public believe the same things that people believed centuries ago … and those misconceptions drive a lot of the policies that we see now and hold us back rather than letting us move forward.”

Dede said businesses, educators, workforce developers, and people in the policy arena need to band together and form a strong campaign about education awareness and what education can do–a challenge, because people have different ideas about what the nation’s top education priorities should be.

Despite different opinions, Dede said one common idea is that most parents want their children to have more economic opportunities than they had. This belief can be used as a touchstone to help rally public awareness around these education issues, he said.

One big action that can be taken at the federal level, Dede said, is to recognize that the first generation’s set of tests, accountability measures, and standards is flawed. Dede summarized some of the ideas, which are contained in an online report that he co-authored.

“It was a place to start, but like most things one tries the first time, it isn’t quite right,” he said. “To think about what the second generation’s standards would be like, second generation assessment, second generation accountability policies, would make a lot of sense, instead of being defensive and pretending that the first generation is perfect.”

“A second thing is to recognize that skilled teachers are really at the heart of any possible education reform. We don’t have to really understand where we’re going to know how important the teaching force is for us,” he said.

Thinking of ways that teachers can build their experiences in twenty-first century workplaces, and providing them with incentives to engage in professional development centered on new technologies, will be a step in the right direction.

“I think the two measures of changing the kinds of rewards and incentives that we use in education, and then providing reasons and ways to build teacher capacity, are the two most important places to begin,” he said.

Links:

Transforming Learning for the 21st Century: An Economic Imperative
http://www.learningpt.org/page.php?pageID=138

FETC 2006
http://www.fetc.org