President Obama has announced a new round of grants, this time in the areas of new skill-building high schools, and in apprenticeship learning. Although these new initiatives are being promoted as “21st century learning”, they are anything but. Prior to 20th century, virtually everyone learned this way. Very few students even attended high school, much less finished it. (Universal high school didn’t even exist until 1910).
Most everyone left school by the age of 15, and they learned through an apprenticeship style of learning. This was one-to-one, on-the-job, and targeted solely to the specific job needs or objectives. This is the very definition of “adult learning”, and it is the most effective way to learn for anyone over the age of 15.
In fact, nearly 70% of students in Germany apprentice, while 65% of those in Switzerland apprentice. These countries are enjoying much more economic success at the moment than is the United States. Businesses are getting employees with exactly the skills that they need, and students are learning only what is important for them to achieve their goals at the present time. (More education is always possible in the future).
Of course, Germany and Switzerland are not the same as the United States. We need our own unique form of education that fits our tradition of independence and opportunity. I have a suggestion (I have many). Why not end high school at age 15 (end of Sophomore year). At this point, students can opt to go on with the traditional high school — Junior and Senior year, in a rigorous college prep. curriculum. Or, they can use their state money, voucher style, that normally goes to paying for the last two years of high school (typically $13,000.00 per year) and apply it to an apprenticeship. The money would go toward funding the students’ part-time, on-the-job training salary, and also to fund community college courses, trade-school courses, or employee designed training courses that the employer deems important to train the student. We have now created a real choice for students, traditional high school or apprenticeship style learning.