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The Education Competition isn’t in Bridgeport, it’s in Bombay

Ben Jackson is a writer and app developer living in Brooklyn, NY.  I noticed one of his article entitled, How Tech Will Transform the Traditional Classroom.

We are in the midst of restructuring the Catholic School System here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In conversations I have had with teachers,  parents, principals and Bishops, they have expressed the need for these changes if Catholic education is to be viable in the future. I agree. However…

After the Chrism Mass on Thursday, I was enjoying lunch at Bomb-Bombs in South Philly. Over ribs, roast pork Italian and penne, a fascinating conversation ensued between a teacher, several school parents, a professional therapist who specializes in helping grade- and high school students, a counselor-in-training and me (who also taught high school for 7 years). It was proposed that current pedagogical approaches, what is being taught to students studying to be teachers at our universities and current school strategies might all be outdated.

I pointed to the example how “help desks” were pushed overseas especially to India after the “Millennium Bug” issue 10 years ago. The reason for this move was that numerous corporations and enterprises moved their data over there before the year 2000 ‘just in case.” Before they did however, massive amounts of infrastructure (satellite communications, cable links, computers, WANS, LANS, software, hardware) was installed within India and between the US and India. Why there? There was a large pool of highly educated people. They were technologically savvy. And the spoke ENGLISH!  After 2000, India had a glut of personnel and this massive technology infrastructure. What to do with it? They offered it to the US as a potential for additional, and extremely economical, customer service. Although American might complain about foreign “customer service,” the fact is that personnel costs “over there” are just too economical when compared to the costs of salary-and-benefits costs of hiring Americans “over here.” It’s simple economics. Do the math

Guess what?  They’re going to do it again. This time, the market will be our classrooms and our students. They still have a large pool of highly educated, highly motivated, English speaking people. They are taking “accent reduction” classes to learn to “speak just like Americans.” Maybe they don’t have degrees from Oxford or Cambridge (although some do!) many have been educated at fine universities all over the world. The competition for jobs there is fierce! Only the best survive.

Home-schooling is growing at a rapid rate, 15 – 20% in the year 2000. Some reports claim that the number of students being home-school educated is greater than those being educated in “charter schools” (and we know the impact that THEY have had on Catholic Education in Philadelphia, they’re draining our Catholic schools!). Home-school parents are well educated, incredibly passionate, committed, well organized and successful. They have also become a serious, political force in the US. I heard of one story (Sorry can’t site source or confirm it) where public school teachers approached one legislator about proposing new laws to counter home-schooling. The legislator basically said, “No way. Do you know how BIG this movement is? Do you have any idea how many voting parents are involved in this? There are WAY more of them than there are of you now. You’re a teacher…Do the math.'”

So take the University of Phoenix model. You’re a parent. You have several PCs, iMacs, iPads, iPhones, or Droids connected to a LAN in your home with a high-speed internet connection. Suppose a “University-of-Phoenix-like” grade-school or high-school in India (or England or Ireland or Canada or even in the US) offers you and your child a full curriculum, or even just a few courses to either take some pressure off of you or to enhance what you are already teaching your children. Then they set a competitive “price point” with discounts if you have 2, 3, 4 or more children. And the teachers excellent! Top-notch, highly educated, experts in their field with real-world experience. The school even brings in world renown, web-based “guest lecturers as part of the deal. You going to pay tuition to send your child to a near-by building?

For Catholic education, death knell or window or opportunity?  Any new Catherine McAuleys or Elizabeth Ann Setons out there?

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Father, your post is thought provoking, if not a bit dramatic. If we all “Do the Math”, let’s just remove any obstacle in our course that prevents us from farming out any and all work to foreign nations. Better yet, let’s overlook child-labor laws in this country. We could bring back the sweatshops of old!. If indoctrinated properly, (see Catholic parents in their 40’s banging their heads into the wall to keep their children in Catholic schools) children could be an extremely cheap source of labor. As for home-schooling – ITS GREAT!!! Now, who will pay the bills while a parent or caregiver stays home with all of these children? Perhaps those wealthy enough to afford a home/utilities on one salary should be permitted access to home-schooling, and those “have-nots” can just settle for whatever they get – Philly public schools, or worse, mediocre, high-priced Catholic schools cobbled together at the last minute because someone finally realized that “good Catholic families” only have 2 chilldren now – not 6. Maybe we should “Do the Math” on that one. Where did all of those children go? – I forgot – we’re going to “out-source” them.

    April 13, 2012
    • Fr. Charles Zlock #

      Heather. Thanks for the comments. Some counter-points:

      First, I worked in the computer industry then later in education for a number of years. So I have experience and thus interest in the juxtaposition and intersections of these two areas of our society. I am not necessarily saying that the ideas I presented are good “solutions” or that I am advocating such positions. You bring up VERY important and relevant issues. And that’s why I think a dialogue like this has such value.

      What I AM saying however is that:
      * These are trends that are coming at us,
      * They’re coming at us FAST!
      * They are going to dramatically change education in the US,
      * We’ve been doing education pretty much the same way for decades. We have now entered a totally new technology age with access and the economic availability of the internet (over 85% of the US by some studies) and the advent of new social media tools is going to not only transform education, it is already transforming society. In an increasingly competitive global market, US students are lagging way behind educationally not only compared to first world but more and more as compared to second and third world countries. We need to change the way we think about and deliver educational content and our approach to pedagogy
      * America can compete – and win – in this competition! We have the most enviable university system in the world. We have a history of pioneers and giants in education. We have companies willing to step up and try and help deliver solutions (Look at Exxon’s program to assist in investing in US education at http://www.exxonmobilperspectives.com/2011/01/12/fix-education-fix-the-future ). But saying that, because of problems inherent with any new approaches, we should ignore the issue or deny what’s coming, or simply name the problems without offering creative solutions – I feel – is somewhat defeatist and short-sighted. As I tell my parishioners, “Don’t tell me what’s wrong. Don’t bring me a problem. Offer a solution and sign up to help.”

      Let’s just remove any obstacle in our course that prevents us from farming out any and all work to foreign nations.

      Not necessarily. Course curriculum would have to be local and/or State approved. Not every “cyber-school” would automatically be accepted. There would have to be some kind of licensing and vetting process to ensure compliance with US and state education laws. In addition, with so many opportunities for people to rate EVERYTHING these days, parents would very soon “sound the alarm” if a school was not “making the grade” and broadcast that information to parents all over the US. I also wonder if you are perhaps being a bit unfair to parents who home-school their children. In speaking with some of my parishioner-parents, their reaction is “I don’t care who they are or where the teachers or schools are from. If my kid gets good grades from a good teacher, higher SAT or PSAT scores and gets into a better high school or college and the price is right, I don’t care if they’re from Hyderabad or Harvard. Just help my kid get better grades!” Parents are looking for ANY competitive edge for their children and holding off “cyber-schooling” (in my opinion) is a fools errand. It’s moving too fast.

      Better yet, let’s overlook child-labor laws in this country.
      See my comments above. States need to license and regulate to ensure compliance with local and State educational standards.

      … and We could bring back the sweatshops of old!.
      Not sure where you were going with this comment unless you mean that foreign countries would employ “teacher sweatshops.” A possibility? A danger? Yes. Possible unethical practices furthered by unscrupulous and even immoral managers? You bet. That doesn’t meant that the specter of such underhanded and disgusting practices should have us simply ignore what’s going to happen anyway. Let’s engage the process and make sure that standards are in in place, transparency is demanded and strong, enforceable penalties are in place.

      If indoctrinated properly, (see Catholic parents in their 40′s banging their heads into the wall to keep their children in Catholic schools) children could be an extremely cheap source of labor.
      Again, not sure of the purpose of this comment.

      As for home-schooling – ITS GREAT!!! The percentage of the school-age population that was homeschooled increased from 1.7 percent in 1999 to 2.9 percent in 2007 Now, who will pay the bills while a parent or caregiver stays home with all of these children? Perhaps those wealthy enough to afford a home/utilities on one salary should be permitted access to home-schooling, and those “have-nots” can just settle for whatever they get – Philly public schools, or worse, mediocre, high-priced Catholic schools cobbled together at the last minute because someone finally realized that “good Catholic families” only have 2 chilldren now – not 6. Maybe we should “Do the Math” on that one. Where did all of those children go? – I forgot – we’re going to “out-source” them.

      In 1999 850,000 children were home-schooled. That increased to 1.1 million in 2003 and 1.5 million in 2007. SOMEONE must be able to afford it. Sure it requires sacrifice of time, money and effort. But I know several home-schooling families personally and they say, looking at the local educational options in their neighborhoods, it’s worth the sacrifice to them.

      Most of the home-school families that I know are not wealthy – they are primarily middle-class. As for the rest of your points in the last paragraph. you’ll have to break out the issues. For example, I couldn’t follow the ideas especially your statement about “out sourcing” of children.”

      But this is an important issue. Let’s keep the dialogue going. Fr. Zlock

      April 15, 2012

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