The purpose of education in the US is evolving. It has always changed to match the needs of the period it is in. Since the 1980s, the overall goal of the public education system has been the achievement of the students it serves. Currently, major global trends such as individual empowerment and technological advances are providing educators with innovative tools to help every student succeed. All of these factors are redefining what education should be, and we must continue to be mindful to use these new ideas and tools to benefit not merely a select few, but to provide every child with the opportunity to reach academic success .
One such pertinent global trend is individual empowerment. The National Intelligence Council noted that, “...we see the potential for greater individual initiative as key to solving the mounting global challenges over the next 15-20 years.” This idea of individual initiative, as it relates to education, is starting to be realized as a powerful tool to close the academic achievement gap between students living in low-income areas and their higher-income peers. In the past 5-10 years, there has been a growth of startups offering online content capable of supplementing or replacing in-class learning, to provide personalized academic enrichment. Additionally, the creation of national academic standards to hold schools accountable and prepare students for a global playing field has made it even more critical that each individual student succeeds. This personalized online content is a great way to create both individual agency in student education and transparency in results. However, the downside to this trend is that it is inspiring people who know nothing about the education space to inject technology into it. This lack of knowledge causes the development of curriculum and content that have little to no rigor.
Along with the online personal education revolution comes the growth of the technology capable of powering it. With our improved ability to get content, stream videos, sift through big data and augment the physical spaces we occupy, students have opportunities to learn in ways that we haven’t been able to before. Now, we can take in the data of a student and come up with individualized solutions to their learning challenges. This opens up learning to many individuals who may not have been able to learn in the traditional sense due to their handicaps. Even though the advances in technology solve this problem, there is the potential to create another: with the onset of this technology it is more likely to get adopted by schools in higher-income neighborhoods rather than schools in lower-income neighborhoods. This would widen the achievement gap, ultimately widening the income gap.
So where do we go from here? Lead Historian at Harvard, Patricia Graham, said in Schooling America, “Traditionally we have been satisfied with the excellent academic performance of a few, including some rich and a few poor, some white and a few of color. For the remainder, we have settled for much more modest achievements.” As, more tools are created to give us control over the massive and chaotic education system we must move forward with a central understanding of how to equitably serve those who need it most. Education today has the capacity to provide opportunity to all, thereby driving economic growth and stability. Authors of the Mckinsey Quarterly Article, Bughin, Chui and Manyika agree that with IT enabled business models, even the government has a chance at seeing these problems for what they are and helping to drive solution through evenly distributed technology empowerment.
Graham, Patricia A. Schooling America: How the Public Schools Meet the Nation's Changing Needs. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.