Economic woes are all around us. Even though our economy has “recovered” from the great recession, it still seems to be in a downward spiral. No one, including those in the White House and Congress, seems to have the answer to turning our economy around.
Increasingly, Education is in the news as a top issue for voters. It isn’t perceived as working for the majority of students. And like most of these voters, I believe that addressing our problems in education can solve our most pressing problems.
As recent as the 1970s, upwards of 50% of students dropped out of high school. They were simply through with academic learning, and wanted to proceed out on their own. “I just want to start working” was a common phrase uttered by students, and it was respectable. These drop-outs found jobs and continued on with their adult lives. The major problem that has happened since this time, however, is that you need a lot more fundamental knowledge and skills to obtain a job, and a 16-year old without a high school degree does not have enough of those. What can be done?
The answer, of course, is apprenticeship. Something that has been done successfully in Europe for centuries. But apprenticeships run people the wrong way in this country. They are perceived as mind-less vocational education, that will trap students in low paying blue collar work for the rest of their lives. Nothing could be farther from the truth, because we can have a different kind of apprenticeship. We have an American-style, independent, entrepreneurial, and high knowledge/skill-style apprenticeship. We can do this with the benefits of technology. As part of an apprenticeship, students can take community college courses, distance learning courses, or high-tech/computerized training conducted by the employer. The employer along with the student can determine what skills are most needed.
I think the only way to do all this on a large scale is to provide, as an option, to shave off a year of high school. It costs 12 – 15 thousand dollars to educate a student for one year in the public school system. If some students could leave after Junior year, this money could be given to an employer to set up an apprenticeship, with half the money going towards the students apprentice salary, and half directed towards their learning. In this way, a student who doesn’t feel compelled to keep learning the typical academic knowledge provided in high schools, has an option. They can leave after Junior year, receive their GED degree, and start working, while still obtaining valuable learning that is greatly needed by society, because the learning will be shaped by the employer.
We simply need to change our focus in Education. We need to have choices for students in their learning as they grow older. Attending a four-year university is not a good option for many students. They need choices, and we need to provide them. As employers step up to create apprenticeships, because they can receive money to do so from the school system and taxpayers, then students will have apprenticeships to choose from. It can work. With effective adult learning throughout life, that is first built upon a targeted and effective apprenticeship, many of our economic woes will go away.