Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Educating for Innovation

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Educating for Innovation

Article excerpt

Perhaps the following statement will be considered highly controversial, but 1 hope not!

The role of education isn't to teach innovation but rather it's to educate students in a manner that maximizes their chances, over the course of their lives, both to be open to innovation and to understand how to solve problems in a manner that may lead to innovative solutions.

Preparation for openness to innovation can come in many forms, but the most important factors have to include both a meaningful understanding of disciplinary knowledge as well as an appreciation of how to bring a sense of integration to a problem. How might we envision such an education?

One place to start is with the opening sentence of a provocative op-ed piece Fareed Zakaria recently published in the Washington Post. 1 Zakaria's piece is entitled "Why America's obsession with STEM education is dangerous" and it begins with the following sentence: "If Americans are united in any conviction these days, it is that we urgently need to shift the country's education toward the teaching of specific, technical skills."

Zakaria goes on to skillfully and fully dismantle this belief by explaining how an integrated approach to learning is likely to lead to powerfully creative solutions. He notes that "Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization." And he goes on to cite Steve Jobs as saying "it's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough - that it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing."

Learning while crossing boundaries, learning within a broader context, learning how to meld divergent ideas and different opinions, is both more engaging and more likely to be productive over the long term. Interestingly, this view has just recently been formally adopted by one of the world's most successful educational systems: Finland's K-12 system of public education.

That Finland has a successful educational system isn't simply my opinion. While I'll be the first to admit that coming up with reasonable comparative measures are difficult, every one of such measures that education experts have devised place Finland in the top five countries globally. For example, they have consistently ranked near the top of the results reported by the Program for International Student Assessment2 (PISA) where they fare particularly well in literacy and numeracy. Similarly, the more comprehensive Learning Curve,3 which includes results of the PISA as well as other international measures in addition to graduation rates, places Finland at the top of the international community.

As a recent news report in England's The Independent noted, Finland has received widespread attention for its education system, "which makes it all the more remarkable that Finland is about to embark on one of the most radical education reform programmes ever undertaken by a nation state - scrapping traditional 'teaching by subject' in favour of 'teaching by topic.' "4

Such integrated teaching does not have to sacrifice depth while demonstrating linkages across disciplines. Indeed, as The Independent reported, "Early data shows that students are benefiting too. In the two years since the new teaching methods first began being introduced, pupil 'outcomes' - they prefer that word to standards - have improved. …

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