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John Florez: Education needs a vision in today's economy

Published: Saturday, Feb. 16 2013 12:05 a.m. MST

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More than half of today’s grade school children may be doing jobs that have not yet been invented. Fortunately, we now have legislators who seem to understand that.

When we see kids’ test scores declining, it may be that the tests were designed for an industrial era, rather than the world they now live in. Children born after 1985 when the World Wide Web was created experienced different ways of learning, by searching, organizing and assimilating information from worldwide sources. So, when experts say kids don’t know anything, it’s because the “experts” don’t know what today’s kids know, (Cathy N. Davidson, “Now You See It”).

Simply put, our schools keep preparing children for a world that no longer exists; yet, we keep turning to the experts who don’t know what today’s kids know. It’s a new world, a digital world driven by technology and the Internet — we are all immigrants in this new territory. However, many of the education professionals will fight to preserve a hundred year old education institution. Our world has changed and so must our education system to keep pace with change; to keep doing the same is to relegate our nation to mediocrity.

Last Monday, the Utah State Senate education committee voted to have the Utah legislative leadership come together as a taskforce to develop a long-term education policy for the state. What a refreshing idea to have lawmakers see the need to exercise leadership in creating a vision for education. They should be commended for their foresight. Sen. Stuart Reid introduced SB169 because he thought it was the responsibility of lawmakers to articulate a policy on education for the state.

For too long, lawmakers have allowed the education professionals who created and benefited from the education industry — commissions, and vested interest groups (the so- called stakeholders) — to determine what education should be. In the end, all they do is recommend more of the same, except to spend more money. Legislators, in an effort to improve education, have been passing laws to fix an outdated education system — spending more money, creating more programs and regulations with the same results. Now, they are taking responsibility to create a vision for education in Utah.

The state’s public k-12 education system, technical job training and higher education have operated as a set of subsystems, rather than in a system that allows for the continuous education, training and higher education for youth and adults in a seamless way. Unlike the old economy where individuals prepared for lifetime jobs, the new economy requires individuals to be constant learners ready to take on new jobs, many that are yet to be created.

It’s critical for legislators who have the responsibility for defining public policy to articulate a vision. They have the authority to create and allocate funds. While leaders are supposed to renew a vision for public education to keep pace with change, they must first take the time to understand how the world has changed, what drives the change, and then renew the mission and structure for education to meet the new problems brought about by change. Once they have accomplished that, they should invite all to participate in having a say in making the vision a reality.

Ultimately, it is our lawmakers who are the stewards of our public institutions and to see that they work in the public’s interest. Seems we now have lawmakers who understand their duty and all citizens should applaud and support them so that today’s grade school students will be ready for the jobs yet to be invented.

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