Education improvement part 7

After reviewing all civilizations in the world, Will Durant, the famous historian of the 20th century, concluded that “Education is the transmission of civilization and a country’s ability to defend itself and prosper is directly dependent upon their people’s education. Without a proper education to keep pace with others, a country will fall behind and cannot defend itself. Without open their mind to new knowledge, people become ignorant as their thinking is frozen in time and eventually, their society will fall into lawlessness and chaotic .“

Will Durant cited examples of Greek and China. These powerful civilizations collapsed partially due to the decline in their education system and the threats of foreign invasions. In the 5th century BC, Greece was the most advanced economy in the world with a strong education system that produces many leaders, scientists, mathematicians, and scholars like Alexandre, Socrates, Aristotle, Archimedes, Pythagoras, etc. However, after its Golden Age, its education system declined due to bad leadership and inaction among its government which opened an opportunity for the Roman Empire to invaded Greece and put this country under its control.

A similar lesson also happened in China in the early 19th century. Facing the pressure of foreign countries to trade, China’s Emperor refused to change and in order to maintain his power, he closed all borders and ports to keep his people from knowing what is happening outside his country. The alliance of western countries with stronger military power invaded China forced the Emperor to signed special treaties to give them economic advantages . Eventually, China’s position in Asia collapsed into a chaotic war-torn country for more than 100 years (1840-1940 that historian called it the century of humiliation.)

During the same time, the Emperor of Japan saw what happened in China and knew the threat of foreign countries. He issued an urgent decree to completely change its education system to catch up with others. The Emperors sent many students to study in Western countries and returned to overhaul its education system. Within thirty years, Japan became the most powerful nation in Asia.” Will Durant concluded: “To defend and foster economic prosperity a country must set the highest priority on education.”

Traditionally Asian countries always place a high value on education but today their education system is being challenged by the advance of technology. Many education systems cannot catch up with the fast-changing trends and eventually fall behind. Although some leaders realize that their economy cannot compete without a skilled technical workforce but they hesitate to do anything for being afraid of making mistakes. However, by not changing the education system, they are destroying their future generations, and deny their country a chance to prosper.

Today students are facing a rapidly changing job market that demands different knowledge and skills than in the past. Regardless of where they live, their success is depending on their education system and how well they are trained. Therefore, they need a different kind of teaching, in a different kind of learning environment which requires different skills for both teachers and school and administrators. The job of teachers is not just transferring knowledge but also guiding, coaching and mentoring students. The job of school administrators is not just managing the school based on policies but also supporting teachers and students to meet their educational objectives.

However, many teachers and school administrators are too busy with their daily lives. Some still believe in the concept of teaching by lecturing or “teaching for testing” that oriented toward passing exams and getting degrees instead of developing the knowledge and skills that are needed in today’s job market. There are discussions on improving the education system but most are focusing on details without the bigger picture of what the new education system could look like.

The vision of the new education system should be having the QUALITY of teaching for every student, every day. Having quality teaching includes specific competencies of teachers; the training for teachers; the investment in the teaching profession, and the recognition of their contribution. Other attempts such as building more schools, buying more equipment, adding more technology devices, importing another curriculum from another country will NOT work, if the focus is NOT on the teachers.

For teachers to get involved in improving the education, they must have the TIME, the TRAINING, and the INCENTIVES to make changes happen.Therefore, all changes must be planned by the teaching profession. It is essential that every teacher must be involved and commit to making thing happens collectively. Improvement begins with an examination of data on the current system to determine strengths and weaknesses. From there, a team of teachers can identify new learning needs, as well as the new teachers’ training needs. Once the team has identified all the needs, they can set the new goals for learning and design the training programs that promote the new learning. Education changes should be done in a smaller sample at a few schools within a certain location. By observing these changes and gather additional data, the team can make a correction, if needed before implementing it on a larger scale.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University