Skip to Content

Making education relevant in the 21st century

Monday, June 23, 2014

There was a time in the not-so-distant past that a strong back, able hands and a good work ethic ensured a worker could enjoy a middle class life in America. Not so, anymore: What technology hasn’t consumed in jobs, cheap overseas labor has.

That leaves today’s student facing a very different world from their predecessors. To put it in perspective, a child born today will retire in 2081. What will the world look like then? And will today’s education enable the student to compete? Eke out a good life?

Not if we continue to teach them like it is still the 20th century.

“Those who were educated, say, 30 years ago were educated exactly like our parents and our grandparents,” said Sandra Dop, a consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. “Then we had the technology revolution. We had an advantage in that we were able to evolve on the job as technology and work expectations changed.
“Students today don’t have that luxury of evolving on the job.  They are expected to be ready to enter a 21st century work environment, complete with critical-thinking skills. And yet we are still giving them a 20th century education.”

Iowa continues to bring the 21st century into the state’s classrooms – as witnessed by initiatives such as the Iowa Core and teacher-leadership programs. Competency-Based Education, or CBE, is one critical component for today’s learning toolbox. CBE is an education system that advances students based on their mastery of content rather than age or seat time.

CBE enables a student to combine passion with educational pursuits. The end goal is to spark a strong  interest in a topic, inspiring a student to pursue a deeper learning experience beyond the old-fashioned rote memorization of yesteryear.

CBE is a process through which schools align themselves to the real, ever-changing world. Today’s workplace demands more collaboration, and requires workers to be more attuned to cultural differences across the state, nation and even world. Employees now need a high level of creativity and problem-solving skills.

“CBE focuses on the learning and learner,” Dop said. “Teachers and students work together to combine personal passions and interests with education objectives. For example, if a student is passionate about horses, there are ways to develop a project that will engage the student and ensure that educational objectives are met.  In the case with horses, there could be science goals, there could be agriculture goals, there could be math and even language arts goals.

“When you tap into a student’s personal passions,   it gives him a reason to learn, a desire to learn. It also enables the student to see how interconnected the various topics are. It gives the student insight into how she learns – which sets her up for a lifetime of continued learning.”

But don’t think that tapping into passions is in lieu of learning content.
“Science, math, language arts, social studies, fine arts, physical education – all of it needs to be mastered,” Dop said. “CBE provides that. It requires the students to actually use what they know of the content, and be able to apply it and demonstrate their knowledge and skills. That is truly mastering a topic.”

Ten districts were awarded grant money through the 2013 education reform package to participate in pilot projects. Read more about Competency-Based Education.

Article Type: 

Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on March 18, 2018 at 2:40pm.