By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Study after study shows that as a nation, U.S. students are not graduating from high school, trade school, community college, or in some cases even from college with the technical, analytic and problem-solving skills needed to compete and attain good jobs in today’s innovation economy.
These studies are consistent with the concerns we hear from entrepreneurs leading i2E’s portfolio companies as well as from CEOs and executives with Oklahoma employers. And the growing demand is not only scientists and engineers; it’s also for machinists and welders and people for logistics and inventory management jobs.
Last week, I wrote about “The Smartest Kids in the World,” Amada Ripley’s book about countries that appear to be doing a better job than the United States when it comes to educating most high school students.
One of the contributors to Ripley’s book was sophomore Kim Pate, an American Field Service student from Sallisaw. After last week’s column, we talked with Kim, who has graduated high school and is now applying to colleges.
“When I pictured a rigorous education system,” she said, “I pictured sitting in a desk doing insanely complicated assignments. Finland wasn’t like that.”
There was homework, but it wasn’t excessive. It was mostly students studying notes from class. The biggest difference that Kim saw was that everything in Finland’s schools seemed more functional.
“The teachers there were engaged directly with students for the full hour they taught,” she told us. “That led to students feeling that if the class was worth the teacher’s time, then it was also worth theirs. It wasn’t like pulling a donkey with a rope. With the teachers and kids all focusing on education, I realized how good an education could be for just normal kids.”
Kim is quick to say that she isn’t an education reform expert, but she has ideas.
“If I could change one thing about how we do things in Oklahoma, I’d change our perspective,” she said. “Just because we come from small towns and local communities is not a reason to fall behind or deny our children opportunity. Nothing is beyond our reach. We don’t need money to have passion and focus. We just need to choose what we want and go after it. We need to encourage teachers and students more. It could happen quickly if people choose to care.”
Every student deserves the kind of rigor that teaches them how to study, how to problem-solve and how to engage in a conversation about new or old ideas. Those skills will serve our young people and the businesses who hire them for the rest of their lives.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at [email protected].
DID YOU KNOW? The average score for Oklahoma students taking the ACT test during the 2012-2013 academic year was 20.8, just below the 20.9 national average. Source: www.ok.gov/okstatestat