Whether you are the parent of a school aged child, a teacher who wants to do their best, or a student concerned about their education, you have probably wondered how you could better the school systems, and it's no surprise that you have. In 2012, as well as 2014, Pearson released a global report on education. In 2012, the U.S. was ranked seventeenth out of forty. By 2014, we had moved up to fourteenth. While any improvement is good and we are headed in the right direction, we are still behind most other developed countries; including Japan, Finland, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Poland and Germany. We as a country need to work together to maintain and continue this improvement in education.
So, what do they do that we don't? Well, to start, most children in Europe begin learning a foreign language between the ages of six and nine. This may seem somewhat pushy to some, but in reality, it is easier to learn a foreign language as a young child than it is later in life. Many of these children know how to fluently speak their native language, one foreign language and have also begun learning a second foreign language by the time our high school students are struggling through the second year of their first (and likely, their only) foreign language. The most commonly taught foreign language in Europe in English, followed by French, Spanish, German and Russian. This is because, in European countries, they see multilingualism as not only a good skill, but almost as a necessity. Multilingualism helps people to develop a sense of global citizenship, it promotes intercultural dialog, leading to furthering your own knowledge and culture. It opens up a wide variety of opportunities for students to study, or even work, abroad and well as opening new markets for European businesses.
The United Kingdom, along with some other countries, have special "studio schools." These schools provide career focused education for students age fourteen through nineteen. These studio schools help prepare students not only for future jobs, but also for life in the world outside of school in general. Upon graduation, most high school students in the United States don't know how to do their taxes, get an apartment or effectively manage their finances. High schools do teach student how to fill out job applications, create resumes, write cover letters and how to dress for and behave in an interview, but often not until after many students have had to figure it out on their own. If we were to create a required financial education class, better home economics classes and offer specialized education for assisting students on their career path in out public schools, our students would be much more well prepared for life outside the classroom and they would likely be more successful adults.
Another thing we must do in order to better the school systems is stop cutting arts education programs. Studies have shown that art-centered schools often outscore non-art-centered schools in academic achievement. This is likely because art education has been proven to help the brain rewire itself, make stronger neural connections (and more of them). Art education also helps to build memory skills and create better self discipline, intuition, reasoning, imagination and dexterity- all qualities important in a child's schoolwork, as well as later on in lie outside the classroom. The benefits of arts education is not limited to just drawing and painting; it extends through all art forms- from theatre to sculpting, to interior design, all musical instruments and every style of dance. Better yet, the benefits don't stop with childhood- they extend through the teenage years, into adulthood and all throughout life.
In general, we need to engage and gain the interest of students by getting them involved in hands-on activities, not just hand them textbooks, a worksheet and expect them to learn. We need to show students how supposedly different ant separate subjects, such as literature, art and history, are all connected. We as teachers should be constantly assessing the strengths and weaknesses of our students and mold our lessons and activities to highlight the strengths and improve upon weaknesses. We need to make connections with our students, make learning fun and interesting. We need to encourage the use of technology for educational purposes, because real life jobs will require them to use technology. We as teachers, parents, neighbors and community members should be trying to provide the best resources available. Parents, as well as community leaders, businesses, colleges and museums should be helping to provide educational experiences and act as instructors and mentors for students. If we, the parents, the teachers, family, government officials and community members don't take an interest in bettering the educational systems, in creating a better future for our country, who will?