Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Global Shortage of 18 Million Teachers

Over the next decade, there is a projected global shortage of 18 million teachers—2.3 million of those in the United States. How will we avert the “Darfur of children’s futures in terms of literacy”? (Kotler and Diamandis 2012)

In 1999, the Indian physicist Sugata Mitra discovered that engaging children to learn, be creative, and be problem solvers could be accomplished without any teachers at all! “Mitra designed a simple experiment. He cut a hole in the wall and installed a computer and a track pad, with the screen and the pad facing into the slum. He did it in such a way that theft was not a problem, then connected the computer to the Internet, added a web browser, and walked away. The kids who lived in the slums could not speak English, did not know how to use a computer, and had no knowledge of the Internet, but they were curious. Within minutes, they’d figured out how to point and click. By the end of the first day, they were surfing the web and— even more importantly— teaching one another how to surf the web. These results raised more questions than they answered.” (Kotler and Diamandis 2012)

Mitra continued his experiments by making small adjustments to the learning environment. For example, Mitra recruited grandmothers from across the United Kingdom to donate one hour of their week providing encouragement to these Indian children via Skype. On average the “granny cloud”, as Mitra called it, was found to increase test scores by 25 percent. In Mitra’s next experiment he accomplished the unthinkable: after four months of self-organized learning, Mitras students (only 12 years of age) were able to achieve test scores in the subject of biotechnology equal to the average scores of high-school students studying biotech at the best schools in New Delhi. This and other milestones led Sugata Mitra to formalize a learning method called “self-organized learning environments” (SOLES).

The Sugata Mitra example was made popular only recently by the book Abundance upon its publication in February of 2012. The author states most inspiringly, “If what’s really needed are students with no special training, grandmothers with no special training, and a computer with an Internet connection for every fourth student, then the Darfur of literacy need not be feared. Clearly, both kids and grandmothers are plentiful. (And,) wireless connectivity already exists for over 50 percent of the world and is rapidly extending to the rest.” (Kotler and Diamandis 2012)


Kotler, Steven, and Peter H. Diamandis. Abundance. Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2012.

The "Finnish Miracle" of Education

Finnish students spend fewer hours per day in school than their U.S. counterparts, and even less time in the classroom than students in Shanghai and South Korea. This is significant because the PISA study, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Development (OECD 2009), consistently ranks Finland, Shanghai, and South Korea as the top countries in reading, math, and science test scores.
OECD, 2009 - Hyperlink: See Bibliography

When Finland topped the list during the first year of the PISA study, many Finns thought that the results must be a mistake because the Finnish school system was never intended to manufacture academic excellence, but alternatively was born of the lofty goal to give every Finnish child exactly the same opportunity to learn irrespective of family background, income, or geographic location. So how does a country spend less time instructing students and still attain the highest test scores in reading, math, and science without even trying? The explanation for what is now referred to as the “Finnish Miracle” is that numbers do not drive people, but people and relationships drive numbers. More specifically, test scores and accountability do not drive people to excellence, but engagement, curiosity, collaboration, and creativity drive students as well as teachers towards academic excellence.

In contrast to the Singapore and South Korean school systems, Finnish schools spend very little time testing students. In fact, Finland uses no standardized testing to measure students’ progress from year to year. The only standardized test that Finnish students take is called the National Matriculation Exam (Partanen, What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland's School Success 2011), which every student takes at the end of his/her high-school education. In place of standardized testing, teachers are encouraged to develop their own curriculums and are taught how to develop their own evaluation and assessment techniques. Without the need to teach-to-the-test, Finnish teachers have more time to teach students using the best-known education techniques. Instead of lecturing, Finnish teachers spend the vast majority of school time directing hands-on, project-based learning (e.g., exploring in nature, cooking in the kitchen). This approach to education engages children and inspires them to think creatively, collaborate, and to become problem solvers.


OECD. PISA 2009 Results. 2009. http://www.pisa.oecd.org/document/61/0,3746,en_32252351_32235731_46567613_1_1_1_1,00.html (accessed May 22, 2011).
Partanen, Anu. What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland's School Success. December 29, 2011. http://www.linkedin.com/news?actionBar=&articleID=1015598382&ids=cjgRd3cSej4MciMPejAMc3wVcj0Nb3AMdjcOe3oNc34IczwPe3ARdj4MciMVejcTc3cQcj0N&aag=true&freq=weekly&trk=eml-tod2-b-ttl-1&ut=3BiwjpucgOsR41 (accessed May 22, 2012).
—. "What Americans Keep Ignoring about Finland's School Success." December 29, 2011.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

I recently read this article by Clayton Christiansen out of Harvard entitled, “How will you measure your life?” It is what he tells his students on the final day of his class.

One of the items that he mentions sticks out to me. It reads as follows:

“One of the theories, . . . . . how to be sure we find happiness in our careers—is from Frederick Herzberg, who asserts that the powerful motivator in our lives isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognized for achievements. I tell the students about a vision of sorts I had while I was running the company I founded before becoming an academic. In my mind’s eye I saw one of my managers leave for work one morning with a relatively strong level of self-esteem. Then I pictured her driving home to her family 10 hours later, feeling unappreciated, frustrated, underutilized, and demeaned. I imagined how profoundly her lowered self-esteem affected the way she interacted with her children. The vision in my mind then fast-forwarded to another day, when she drove home with greater self-esteem—feeling that she had learned a lot, been recognized for achieving valuable things, and played a significant role in the success of some important initiatives. I then imagined how positively that affected her as a spouse and a parent. My conclusion: Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team. More and more [people think] that a career in business means buying, selling, and investing in companies. That’s unfortunate. Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people."

I’m sure you can see why it sticks out.