Our educational level: Spiraling downward or just shifting?

Joan Marques - Ed.D., MBA.
Burbank, California

"In my time we had to do so much more to get through school. This generation really has it much easier than mine!"

Have you also heard your parents, an older family member, or a teacher for that matter, tell you something along the above posted lines? We all probably have. And the funny thing is that, as we grow older, many of us find ourselves saying or at least thinking exactly the same. But is it really that funny? And how much truth is there to this age-old statement?

The other day I attended a meeting at a California university and enjoyed a presentation of two researchers, both professors at higher educational institutions, who did a survey among faculty at 3 local colleges. Their general findings were that the majority of full time faculty, as well as the senior adjunct faculty at all 3 surveyed colleges, shared the opinion that at least some of their students were unprepared. This "unpreparedness" basically entailed poor performance from students due to an array of reasons, varying from language barriers to poor math skills.

Yet, the most disturbing evidence was the diminished linguistic skills from contemporary students. One of the researchers even stated that today's high school graduates generally master a vocabulary that is several thousands of words smaller than that of a generation or so ago because the language used for teaching in school has been increasingly simplified.

So, what brings about this ostensible downward spiral? The answer: It seems to be the descending level -- or the changing focus -- of education. The critics among us may find that we are trapped in a sliding vicious cycle. They exclaim that today's students are receiving less challenging education, and are generally expected lower performance from in order to graduate from high school or college, than before. "However," will these skeptics continue, "These same students will be tomorrow's teachers. And since they now have to accomplish less at the same educational level in which their parents had to achieve more in the past, their students in the next generation will probably learn less than they have in these days. And down goes the spiral!"

Yet, it remains a fact that ten years from now, today's students, then turned into teachers, will in their turn complain about the then perceived descent.

Fortunately, there is also a positive way to look at the current trend in education: not as deterioration but as transformation. How? Well, today's generation masters areas in which previous ones were completely illiterate. There is a shift emerging regarding what is important in the future workplace. The level of confidence that contemporary youngsters have with computers, for instance, was not even measurable in generations of the 70's. And the sophistication, with which present-day students analyze video material, does not have its equivalent in previous generations, because these youngsters are, more than ever, ambassadors of the TV and video age!

So, maybe there is no descent, but rather a shift in priorities, based on a transfer in needs: today's workplaces want IT-professionals, not readers. It's the electronic age, and that brings along: decreased interest in books and words, and increased savvy in device handling.

Something to be concerned about? Who can tell!