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Education in the U.S. is moving toward greater standardization, high stakes testing, and a one size fits all approach – all of which are the opposite of what is needed in the 21st century. This education model was better suited for the Industrial Revolution when most students did not need to prepare for jobs requiring creativity, critical thinking and innovation. During the industrial era, schools needed to mass produce students with similar knowledge and skills to work in factories and for assembly line jobs. If we use this model today, we will graduate millions of students whose skills and knowledge are a mismatch for good 21st century jobs and careers. This is already happening and is one of the reasons so many young people in the world can not find decent jobs, including many college graduates. Even in the U.S., creativity is diminishing among our youth each year as measured by The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT). The problem is that we are trying to improve and clinging onto an educational paradigm and system for a world that no longer exists.


Essential Skills are Needed as a Foundation

High testscores in reading and math are not the end all and be all, but these basic and core skills are needed as a foundation for a good education. Yong Zhao, university professor and author of World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, points out that Chinese students were number one in the world last year in science and math on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) and in reading, math and science on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). And yet, he also points out that few of these high scoring students have an entrepreneurial mindset because of an educational system that teaches for testing and places the highest value on standardized test scores. An entrepreneurial mindset is not restricted to starting a business; it is the ability to generate ideas and put them in action to solve real-world problems and to achieve goals.


Entrepreneurial Mindset Needed for Jobs Today

The entrepreneurial mindset can be applied to jobs today whether one starts a business or works as an employee. It is characterized by grit and persistence, individual initiative, ability to solve real-world problems, ability to achieve goals, communication skills, willingness to take risks, self-confidence, and the ability to engage in critical and creative thinking. The countries with the highest test scores on international tests have the lowest levels of creativity with the exception of Finland. In Finland, students do not take standardized tests until the end of high school when they take international tests and do very well.


Why are Countries with the Highest Test Scores not Producing a Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison?

China has yet to create a Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook or a Mars rover Curiosity. Few patents are granted in China and few people, in comparison to the size of the population, start their own businesses. Students are taught to conform, comply, cram for tests, memorize and regurgitate information, but are not taught to think out of the box. Is this really the direction that the U.S. wants to take with our education system? Are we “Racing to the Top” so that we can become more like China? Since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the push for high stakes testing, the creativity of American children has been declining. And yet, it seems that we envy and want to replicate educational systems that highly value these models of education.


Students Need Both Higher Level Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills

Those with an entrepreneurial mindset develop and use both cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Research by James Heckman of the University of Chicago indicates that non-cognitive skills (such as goal-setting, time management, ability to communicate well, persistence, etc.) are even more important for career and financial success than cognitive ability. Joseph Durlak of Loyola University Chicago conducted a study that found students who are taught non-cognitive skills to increase social and emotional learning actually increased their academic performance. Their academic performance reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.

Students need to be taught how to learn, to think and to awaken their talents and potential. They also need help discovering a work purpose for which they have an aptitude and passion. Aptitude combined with opportunity, purpose, passion and practice are keys to outstanding achievements. Educators should help students to find the highest expression of their abilities, talents and skills. Each student is unique and has his or her own types of intelligence and talents which are waiting to be discovered and used. Let’s fulfill the purpose of education which is to bring out each learner’s potential and best.


Student-Centered Versus Test-Centered Approach

We need a student-centered approach which provides young people with the strategies for learning how to learn, and for creative thinking; both are necessary to succeed in the 21st century job market. Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian poet, pointed out the way long ago when he said, “Don’t limit a child to your learning, for he was born in another time.” Do we really want to bet the lives of millions of students and future generations on an educational model which is a mismatch for the times? The result is likely to be high unemployment, poverty and inability to compete in the global economy. Think about what the story of education and the future can be if we shift direction and adopt an educational model which awakens the highest potential and creativity of each individual.


  • Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D.and Schellinger, K.B.(2011), The Impact of Enhancing Student’s Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, 82: 405-432. doi: 10.1111/j. 1467-8624.2010.01564.x
  • Heckman, James, Humphries, John, and Mader, Nicholas (June 2010), The GED. NBER Working Paper Series. National Bureau of Economic Research. Cambridge, MA.
  • Zhao, Yong.(2012). World Class Learners: Educating Entrepreneurial and Creative Students:Thousand Oaks, California: Corvin, A Sage Company.