Universal Design: A Driver for Transforming Global Education
The 1983 release of the federal report “A Nation at Risk”sparked an obsession in the United States on rectifying America’s decline as the world’s educational leader. Today, as many countries eclipse the U.S. on rankings from international standardized tests such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and TIMMS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, leaders from business, politics and education have been calling for major reforms. The general message is that in a global economy, students from the U.S. find themselves competing with the best and brightest from all over the world. The demands of global competitiveness therefor requires significant reform in our educational system especially targeting increased performance levels in math and science.
Here’s the dilemma. Reform implies that the basic elements of a system are sound. The premise is that moving around or “re-forming” those elements can generate positive change. While the world is well into the 21stcentury, the U.S. has been pouring literally billions of dollars in reform efforts that fundamentally do not diverge from the 20-century industrial or factory model of education that were relatively successful for past generations. In the recently published book, “Most Likely to Succeed” Sir Kenneth Robinson points out that the current system that drives education is a highly functional configuration of rules and regulations, like standardized lists of subject matter to be covered at very distinct age levels and carefully orchestrated chunks of time orchestrated through bell schedules. This system is indeed highly efficient in keeping masses of youngsters in line and moving them through a standard set of actions, much like a product moving down the assembly line. Instead of a fully assembled car emerging at the end of the line, the end product of this factory model education assembly line is a properly educated student. As Robinson argues, while the dominant system is highly functional, it is out archaic.