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Are We Teaching for Their Future?

Last I looked the preparations for the 21st Century Learner we're still underway 15 years into the century. Where is that entrepreneur-oriented education? Below is an excerpt from Yong Zhao's blog

Excellence in Education

There is no disagreement that the world needs excellence in education but what defines excellence matters. There are two educational paradigms: employee-oriented vs. entrepreneur-oriented (Zhao, 2012). While both aim to prepare children to live successfully, the former focuses on transmitting a body of knowledge and skills predetermined to be valuable and the latter emphasizes on the developing the potential of each individual child. The former presumes that a body of knowledge and skills can be decided based on predications of needs of the society and economy, while the latter assumes if a child’s potential is developed she will become valuable in her own way. Employee-oriented education values what children should learn, while entrepreneur-oriented education values what children would learn. Employee-oriented education prepares children to fit existing jobs, while entrepreneur-oriented education prepares children to take the responsibility to create jobs.

Excellence in one paradigm does not mean excellence in the other. When a school or system becomes extremely good at preparing employees, they are not necessarily good at preparing entrepreneurs because different paradigms lead to different arrangement of educational institutions and systems. Given its primary goal to efficiently and effectively transmit predetermined knowledge, the employee-oriented education paradigm requires an apparatus with clearly defined learning outcomes for all students, well-trained teachers knowledgeable of the content to be transmitted and skilled at doing so, engaged students willing and able to learn the content, standardized measures to monitor the progress of each student as well as institutions frequently, and other resources well-aligned with the prescribed content. Uniformity, consistency, standardization, competition, data-driven practices, and an emphasis on outcomes are the features of the employee-oriented education paradigm.

In contrast, the entrepreneur-oriented paradigm requires an apparatus that maximizes individual differences. School following this paradigm have no standardized and common curriculum for all students, each child pursues his or her interest and passion, teachers respond to and support individual student’s pursuit, and students’ progress is assessed only in accordance with their own pursuit. Variation, diversity, tolerance (or indulgence), autonomy, and student-driven are some of the features of the entrepreneur-oriented education.

Today, the measure of excellence in education follows the old paradigm. Excellence is defined as effectiveness and efficiency in transmitting the prescribed content and homogenizing children, indicated by standardized test scores in a few subjects. Schools and nations that produce higher test scores are considered having better education. Following the same logic, schools, teachers, and educational systems are working hard to raise test scores, believing that they are pursuing excellence. Guided by this definition of excellence, educational reforms worldwide have focused on strengthening components and arrangements of the old educational paradigm as suggested by A Nation at Risk: fixing the curriculum, raising standards, lengthening school time, improving the teaching force, and holding teachers and school leaders accountable.

To prepare the talents we need for the 21st century, we need to redefine excellence in education. Instead of effectiveness in homogenizing students, an excellent education should support the development of diverse talents. Instead of suppressing creativity and individual differences, an excellent education should deliberately cultivate them. Instead of preparing compliant employees, an excellent education should intentionally encourage children to be entrepreneurial. Instead of overemphasizing global competitiveness, an excellent education should foster global perspectives and competence. Excellence in education should thus be measured by its effectiveness in providing personalized education that promotes diversity and creativity, on a globalized campus that engages children in global interactions, through product-oriented learning that inspires entrepreneurship and innovation (Zhao, 2012).