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Innovative Education for New Generations: Equity & Relevance

Generations of children have grumbled about having to memorize and regurgitate information they have no interest in learning and can’t imagine using. That sentiment has peaked over the last few years, as students question why they have to memorize information when they could Google answers in seconds.

These students, and stakeholders in education, have legitimate concerns, but change is underway. From schools in developing nations to classrooms all across America, innovation in education is changing both what, and how, students are taught. The purpose is to ensure students leave school ready to succeed in whatever awaits them once their formal education ends.

We’re All Stakeholders in Modernizing Our Educational System

The 50% of students who report feeling unengaged in school, the overwhelming majority of parents who seek proof that their child will be prepared for life after school -- more than anything else -- and the educators who get burnt out with all the bureaucratic red tape aren’t the only ones affected by the flaws in our current educational system. The reality is that those flaws affect us all.


Teachers are the lever to ensuring students are prepared for the modern workforce; however,  nearly eight percent of teachers leave the workforce each year. Here are just a few of the biggest problems:

  • Overcrowding

  • Decreased funding

  • Outdated textbooks

  • Socioeconomic factors

  • Low morale and lack of motivation among both teachers and students

One of the biggest problems, however, is the number of schools still using teaching methods designed for the industrial era, not the era of technology. Tactics such as having students take turns reading aloud, for example, emphasize order and conformity.

That, along with drills, repetition, and rote memorization might have made sense when many students grew up to work in factories or other jobs where everyone did the same type of work. The digital age, in contrast, requires individualized education and out-of-the-box thinking.


Students are often disengaged, and bide their time until graduation. When they do graduate, they’re either ill-equipped or uninspired to enter the workforce. In many cases, they aren’t aware of all the available career options.

At the same time, inequity in the classroom is an ongoing problem. According to one federal study, 70 percent of teachers said they assign homework that has to be completed online. However, a Pew study found that 15 percent of American households with school-aged children lack reliable internet access. That lack of access puts low-income students at an immediate disadvantage when it comes to completing schoolwork.

Unfortunately, the effects extend beyond formal education. The lack of access to technology also means that underprivileged students are likely to be less knowledgeable about the many new STEM careers available today.

Industry and Communities

Leading industries are seeing the effects of our outdated educational system too. Today’s jobs require less repetitive work and more innovation and critical thinking. Companies need to be able to turn on a dime to keep up. Unfortunately, they’re struggling to hire employees who fit the bill. Recent graduates may be knowledgeable in their field of study, in theory, but they often have no idea how to apply it to the real-world work environment.

Meanwhile, communities continue to struggle with the problems created by income inequality and the other results of inequity in education. A sustainable living wage continues to be a barrier that holds students back from their ultimate success -- and families back from providing their children with opportunity in education -- and the gap between education and the modern work environment is only exacerbating this issue.

The Answer Lies in Innovative, Not Iterative, Solutions

The answers to the problems in our educational system aren’t in one-off tweaks to existing models. We need innovative education; education and industry working together on learning that produces equitable results for all students.

Work-Based Learning is the Future

In one study conducted by the University of Chicago, functional MRIs showed that being physically involved in learning activated more areas of the brain than traditional, lecture-based learning. In later tests, student participants whose lessons included physical activities, and work-based learning, performed better than students who were taught using a traditional, lecture-based approach.

Similar research has led to an innovative, cooperative design approach commonly called problem-based learning. This kind of development program is driving communities everywhere to take a fresh, holistic view of education by acknowledging some unavoidable truths:

  • Students learn better through work-based learning rather than the traditional “lecture and test” format.

  • Today’s businesses have a pressing need for employees who are ready to hit the ground running.

  • Businesses also recognize the need for “essential skills” like emotional intelligence, organization, personal accountability, etc.

  • There’s a global commitment to using innovative education to promote equity. It can do so by making children aware of the many career opportunities available to them. Plus, it opens doors by helping them make contacts, and find mentors, from universities and employers.

The solution to all of those challenges involves redesigning education by taking it out of the classroom and into the workplace or community. Doing so allows students to envision how the skills they’re learning are being used to solve big, real-world problems.


Highly-qualified educators can come up with examples of hands-on learning, but it’s at its best when it involves more than one subject area and satisfies a real need. Some examples include:

  • Developing and helping implement a plan for a local non-profit to attract younger volunteers and donors.

  • For schools in coastal areas, working with local government agencies to design a plan that deals with the effects of global climate change.

  • Helping a local grocery store chain develop a way to reduce the amount of food that’s already past its “best by” date when delivered.

  • Helping businesses protect their data by designing gamified vulnerability testing and hosting a challenge for would-be hackers.

While these are great challenges under any circumstances, they work best when the businesses themselves are involved. They can contribute by showing examples of the problem (preferably on-site), explaining how it affects them, describing the requirements of a workable solution and telling students what’s already been tried and why it didn’t work.

Keys to Success

It’s important for educators to remember that the point isn’t necessarily to come up with the right answer. The point is to develop work-ready students by having them use their classroom-based knowledge to identify problems, come up with possible solutions and devise a way to test them.

Not all of their solutions will succeed, but even the failures can be extremely valuable from an educational perspective if the teacher debriefs them properly. It’s also a good idea to talk about some of the interpersonal problems they encountered, and how they resolved them.

It Takes a Village: Getting the Support You Need

While there’s a lot you can do on your own — proper problem-based learning initiatives are readily available online — you’ll get better results with the support of district administration, your local community and surrounding businesses. From providing mentors and project leads to funding for professional development, everyone has a role to play and benefits to gain.

Want to get a head start? To learn more about how education can prepare people for the future of work, ask your local school administration about participating in a learning experience provided by MindSpark Learning.


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