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Rethinking Education for Changing Times

The way we prepare young people for the workforce has needed rethinking for a while. As technology accelerates rapidly, employer needs are shifting in tandem. Schools have been working hard to make the needed transition. But now there’s a new urgency. With the pandemic exposing vulnerabilities in the current system, major budget cuts hitting school systems across the US, and more families worried about paying for college in today’s economic climate, it’s clear education is on the cusp of a paradigm shift.

The upheaval caused by COVID-19 makes now the perfect time to figure out how all the pieces fit together. In a way, the pandemic has been the final ingredient in a perfect storm. Sometimes events force our hand and push us to take a quantum leap into the future—and this is one of those times.

Winston Churchill advised not to let a crisis go to waste. As we navigate this time of intense transition, we’d be smart to take a step back and ask, What can we learn from what we’re going through right now? How can we optimize the high school years? How can we better prepare our young people for the work world of the future?

We don't know all the answers and do advocate for safe return to the classroom for teachers student, but the education system that gets the best results for everyone will likely feature

a) a much greater emphasis on middle and high school career training and

b) a hybrid approach to in-person classroom and distance learning.

For middle, high, and post-secondary students, career skills development along a pathway to employment is essential. While in school, that pathway needs to provide achievement credentials that can be applied to continued/advanced education and/or employment opportunities. Both could have a ‘laddering’ model.

So why is now the right time to rethink how we educate our kids? Here are several reasons:

Increasingly, the workplace demands a “just-in-time” skillset

Technology changes are outpacing academic churn, and that’s creating a worrisome skills gap. High schools need to make sure the skills they’re teaching students are the ones that matter in the work world. That means partnering closely with industry to ensure that the curriculum is truly up-to-the-minute.

We already have a great infrastructure in place

Career and technical education (CTE) programs are already well established (and increasingly popular) in school systems across the U.S. In fact, they are now a major pillar of the American education system. CTE is the perfect entry point for the next generation of classroom learning.

We just need to make sure to maximize our CTE courses. To be at their most effective, they need to meet certain well-established criteria.

“Virtual” work has become mainstream

We’ve seen the business world quickly adapt to the online model. Education won’t be far behind. Thanks to quarantine homeschooling, most students have just had a “crash course.” Virtual learning is here to stay at least in some capacity. The key is to make sure we’re using the technology at our disposal in a way that works for students. With COVID-19, many teachers, parents, and kids were thrown into the fire. Having gone through it we saw the monumental failure it was and as we’ve seen, the online set-up schools cobbled together out of desperation doesn’t work well for everyone. Many kids need the structure of a teacher showing up live, on-screen, at a predictable time of day. Education programs that had that format in place had a much easier time with the disruption.

More students are looking for ways to avoid unsustainable levels of college debt

Most graduates need to come out of school working. Students who graduate with the right certifications can easily make $30,000 a year or more straight out of high school.

So how do we move forward? It’s important to roll things out in the right order: First, we must get the program and content right and make sure classes are tied to viable industries. Then, we must get the methodology right so it provides an effective learning experience. Then, we need to infuse it into existing school programs.

If we’ve learned one thing from this pandemic, it’s that the education field is made up of smart people who genuinely care about their students. It’s a heartfelt thing. They are deeply committed to finding a way forward that makes sense for everyone and sets students up for success. It’s that attitude that gives me a lot of hope for the future of education.

Randy Ramos is CEO of Global Business Solutions, Inc. (GBSI), a Pensacola-based information technology and cybersecurity company serving DOD, government, and commercial companies. Randy’s advocacy for industry engagement in education to graduate qualified cybersecurity professionals is evident in GBSI’s technology innovations and his community engagement. Transforming how industry, government, and academia collaborate in workforce development to achieve cradle-to-career success is fundamental to the company’s strategic initiative. Randy has helped secure over $25M in cybersecurity education grant funding. Randy is an avid speaker on cybersecurity, learning technologies, and accelerating competencies in the competitive global economy.

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