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A Drop Out Lectures on Education

Six years ago I suggested that Bill Gates run for President. I was serious. Gates knows business, and through his foundation, knows world affairs.

He also knows education, which is why I was interested to see a recent article on the subject  in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Education today is, in many ways, stagnant. Too much of what we do is because that's the way we've always done it. Does every high school kid have to read "A Catcher in the Rye" and "The Great Gatsby"?

Recently there's been a lot of attention on the value -- or lack of value -- of the college degree. And as a Harvard dropout, Gates is qualified to address this. Bill believes you generally need something to establish that you've achieved a level of education, which the degree does. And he is interested in the notion of certificates that show that you've taken and passed certain online course.

And while you might expect Gates to be stoked that more devices such as tablets are entering the classroom, he thinks computers are useless unless the curriculum is built around them. For more from professor Gates, head over here.

Posted by Doug Barney on 06/29/2012 at 1:19 PM

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Reader Comments:

Sun, Jul 1, 2012 John Canberra Australia

In Australia University is seen by some as a way of avoiding going to work. The requirement to repay some of the cost of the education reduced that tendency somewhat but it hasn’t fixed the problem. What is needed is to focus resources on those who are likely to succeed, and no form of knowledge-based test (e.g. your SAT) will provide that. What is needed is to identify the potential student who will actually do their part of the process – the learning. Also, knowledge is a combination of experience and memory. Most professions require more than knowledge (they require the capability of thinking) so knowledge-based tests don’t provide much help. #### The interview suggests that a university drop-out is a total loss. That is not necessarily the case. One could essentially complete the course and then leave without the piece of paper. One would still have the education and so be able to perform just as well as someone who had got the piece of paper. Also, those departing before completing the course would, assuming they had learnt something, still have some education of value to offer. So someone completing say 50% of an extremely hard and highly relevant course can be of far more value than someone who has completed 100% of a useless course. Let’s not focus on completion at the expense of overall value. #### Education seems to be treated as an end in itself, so those who don’t value the education per se will not bother. What is needed is to show that the education provides opportunity that makes the effort worthwhile, so the courses must focus on what is of value to both the student (to get them involved) and society (to make it worthwhile funding). Teaching a student ancient history when they are focussed on trying to get out of the ghetto doesn’t seem to add much value from the student’s perspective. #### “Remedial Math”??? The problem I have found with math is the lack of apparent relevance. So the hypotenuse of a right-angle triangle has this relationship with the other sides. So what? Maybe if the student was shown that this can be used in construction work (how to get the walls at right-angles to each other and the floor) including home renovation then the student would see some reason to remember. ### The list goes on.

Fri, Jun 29, 2012 Charles Sink Anchorage, Alaska

Bill Gates comments on education are good to read to see his viewpoint and we applaud his commitment to education through his foundation. A few items that I would like to address are as follows: What we are increasingly seeing in the workforce is the loss in the ability to communicate effectively in the english language and to do math. Young people communicate extensively on their electronic devices in their language they have developed. However, that language does not seem to translate well into business language. There seems to be a loss in basic math skills and I do not know the cause. These two critical skills are indicators that our education system is not working well. Bill Gates is an example of a self-educated person. Most people today do not demonstrate the same motivation. Bill has high intelligence whereas not everyone can be on the right side of the Bell curve. I had heard that some European countries are adopting cohort education. This education has a cohort group such as a certain grade level work cooperatively together to ensure that all members learn their lessons at each level. In the U.S. we favor individual achievement, Bill Gates, over cooperative learning. One of the consequences are those that are left out or in negative reinforcement cycles that in many cases end up counter productive in the desire to learn. This negative reinforcement cycle could be the cause of much loss in learning capability and completion. How do we motivate beyond the negative cycle could be the cooperation of not only the cohort group but parents, education personnel, and our communities. As we say, it takes a community to grow a kid. We assume such communities have healthy goals and attitudes towards learning. If not, someone needs to reach out to those lost in negative cycles. We need a base of education achievement to be able to use tablets or other education devices to go beyond a self-limiting functional knowledge acquisition ability. Base education means just that, enough education to learn certain skills. Even laborers go to training classes these days and need the ability to read, write, count, and measure.

Fri, Jun 29, 2012

Computers in the classroom is something the I can agree on with Bill Gates. At my kid's schools, I see 4-5 computers in every classroom, but they sit there like monolithic door stops. There are a few uses where they read passages and take tests on the computers, but they're not integrated to the curriculum and therefore they detract, and use up valuable district resources which could be used elsewhere. When I hear of school systems in need of money I think of how much they spend on hardware and software that is not improving the learning process. Waste...

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