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Charlotte Observer


Education must adapt to change

By Bev Perdue

The beginning of the school year should be like New Year’s Day – a time for us to look at where we’ve been and where we are going in education at all levels; a time for parents, educators, business and civic leaders to challenge the status quo. We all have skin in this game of producing America’s next generation of workers by providing an education that will mirror a student’s real-world experience. Advancing technologies and the exponential pace of disruption and change is a daunting challenge for our workforce. Are our educational systems ready to respond effectively?

My oldest granddaughter is entering second grade. Her educational experience must be vastly different than my children’s in order to prepare her for a life of continual learning and innovation precipitated by constant technological changes. A look at the 2030 job market is stunning, but it’s a reality for my granddaughter who, like millions of other children, is at the beginning of her educational journey. An Oxford University study predicts nearly half of current U.S. jobs are at high-risk for computerization over the next 30 years. More dramatic to me is the prediction that many of the jobs we know of today, according to futurist Thomas Frey, will not even exist. He envisions a demand for avatar relationship managers, 3D food printer chefs, micro grid strategists and augmented reality architects. These possibilities require more and different education goals and outcomes for learners.

Our national high school graduation rate has increased to over 80 percent, however an analysis released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows nearly 60 percent of students don’t have the math or reading skills for entry-level college courses. In addition, national jobs data show nearly 10 million unemployed, but at the same time there are 4 million jobs available and unfilled due to a growing skills gap.

Traditional education policy structures at all levels, including seat time and textbooks, must transform to support next generation technology, digital learning and education innovation to produce a nimble and versatile worker for this rapidly changing economy. The “one size fits all” approach to education worked fairly well in the old economy, but no longer can an inflexible, standardized structure adequately prepare workers for a knowledge and idea economy. 

Technology is at the crux of our workforce challenges, but it also affords the ability to transform our educational systems by providing personalized learning opportunities for all students and workers and access to real-time assessments. This information enables teachers to quickly redefine ways students can master a subject, and it allows all learners to take more ownership of their education. No longer is learning isolated to inside school house walls or lecture halls.

It is essential to America’s economic viability to create an education ecosystem in which the capacity to learn for a lifetime is a competency skill. The old “I’m prepared for life so hire me because I have a diploma” is no longer the absolute ticket. The new “show me your most recent and current credentials or badge” is alive and kicking.

While necessary, technology does not bring changes to personalized learning and improved student outcomes itself. Our education ecosystem is changed when parents, educators, business and civic leaders fully realize what will be demanded of our next generation of workers and collaborate to change how we educate our children and grandchildren for a technology-driven economy. Then we will all have skin in the game.   


Former N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue is founder and chair of DigiLEARN, a non-profit that accelerates digital learning opportunities for all learners.