It only takes a quick look at global data to understand two painful truths. One is that education has been accumulating serious deficiencies that will impact the following generations on the long run. Two, is that governments haven’t realized the extreme urgency of the matter.
The education crisis is global. It was magnified by the coronavirus pandemic, to proportions that we can barely imagine for now. One figure illustrates this. World Bank data shows that in April 2020, 94% of students were out of school worldwide.
The symptoms of the education crisis are often the same. The National Education Association asserts that the United States is facing a shortage of 300 000 teachers and school staff. In 2021, 38% of third graders were below grade level in reading and 39% in math. European countries are facing similar challenges, and notably a sharp drop in math and reading levels.
The issues we are facing in education are not new. The Covid19 pandemic intensified problems that have been growing in silence for years.
I have seen it both in Europe and the USA. Kids, students, young adults lacking fundamental language and science knowledge. I have seen it as a recruiter when I was looking to hire people. I have also seen it as a friend, when I was asked to proofread an essay or an email.
Education standards have decreased. This is also true for the most basic, fundamental skills.
From 1972 to 2016, in the US, the average verbal score on the SAT test fell about 35 points. According to the 2019 PISA test scores, around a fifth of American 15-year-olds had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old. The drop in test results is true for the US, but also for many Western countries, including France and the UK.
This phenomenon is the result of years of public policy that roughly follows this idea: to make education more accessible, we should make it easier. This constitutes a major mistake in public policy. One that will be of great cost for the future.
Assuming that education is too demanding and difficult for some people is giving up on the idea that each one of us has the ability to improve and conquer difficult tasks.
The pursuit of knowledge is, in itself, a process that requires patience, rigor, hard work and discipline. It is not meant to be easy.
Raising the bar implies that we put in the resources and means necessary to help academic success. It also implies that public policy focuses its efforts on the early stages of childhood. That’s when chronic inequalities and deficiencies are developed.
If we want to reform education, teachers must become a priority for the Nation
They are on the front line. Many of them have been struggling for years to do their job. The pandemic has made it even harder for them to operate.
55% of educators are thinking about leaving the profession. This National Education Association Survey released in 2022 is a confirmation of something that we probably have already noticed. Educators and more specifically teachers are fed up.
Tired, exasperated by years of mismanagement, teachers faced many challenges during the pandemic. Along with high levels of stress, low pay and a growing difficulty to impose discipline.
And yet, by teaching the next generation of adults, they render to the community a significant service. That is why they must become a priority for the Nation. Taking some things off their plate, and valuing their job is already a good start.
Think education differently
School prepares new generations of citizens for the future. It is supposed to help children secure the skills needed to live in our societies and very importantly, it is supposed to help the country raise conscious, educated, and active citizens.
What is taught at school is of primary importance. School should not be just about securing basic knowledge in some key areas. It should be about learning valuable and practical knowledge and turning it into tools that will help face future challenges.
Knowledge is a holistic process that feeds the intellectual and intuitive mind, and equips children with the tools needed to navigate in life. Philosophy, history, and mathematics should be taught along with financial freedom, entrepreneurship, and communication skills. Not as an option in college, but as a foundation of education from the early stages of childhood.
We should help children develop critical thinking and argumentation. Teach them how to build their own opinion and rationally criticize so-called truths. We should teach them to think outside the box. To be bold, fearless, and confident.
While the road to build stronger schools for the next generations is long, we need massive action now, to reverse the decline of something that is at the foundation of our societies: education.