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Peter Cochrane's Blog: Rigid education fails to make the grade

Education system needs to get flexible but vested interests may block essential change...

Written in a coffee shop in Woodbridge, Suffolk, on a rainy summer's day and dispatched to silicon.com via a free wi-fi service.

Education and employment have always changed with technology but there now seems to be a growing disjoint between the two.

There is an old and somewhat cruel joke that seems increasingly applicable. It comes in various guises along the following lines:

A science graduate asks, "Why does it work?"
An engineering graduate asks, "How does it work?"
An accounting graduate asks, "How much will it cost?"
While a liberal arts graduate asks, "Do you want fries with that?"

How did this circumstance come about? It reflects, in part, the proportion of unemployed students 12 months, or more, after graduation. And because much of the West is now creating more degree-qualified people than ever, the problem seems to be getting worse.

Unfortunately, large numbers appear to be unable to find employment in the field of their choice, while vacancies in science, engineering and technology go unfilled due to the lack of suitable candidates. What a travesty.

Companies report that their growth is being limited by a shortage of qualified people and many have to recruit from abroad. This failing is perhaps even worse. Developing and underdeveloped nations need bright minds to support their advancement but often find their talented youngsters being siphoned off by Western economies.

university students – is education failing graduates?

Is the modern education system failing students?
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

Sadly there appears to be no quick fix. Dare I say a culture that is against science, technology and engineering is now well established with precious few champions and role models in our schools or visible in society.

In my dealings with youngsters I find them as bright as ever but often without any predisposition for a life of discovery, creativity and problem solving. Why?

There are many factors of course, but here, I think, is a major one: in the old education system it was not unusual for problems to require five, 10, 15, 20, or more steps to get to the solution.

Successive watering down of the curriculum for political purposes has produced tick-box formats with a solution in one, two or three steps. Should a problem involve...

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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