Last month, Boeing Company announced that the firm has accumulated a massive production backlog, thanks to a recent surge in commercial airline orders. Unfortunately, this swell of orders will not result in an equally large bump in available jobs. Instead, to address their backlog, Boeing is increasingly relying on robots, drones and “human workers wearing powered exoskeletons to help them ramp up production.”

The world of assembly line workers wielding wrenches is rapidly disappearing, replaced by highly educated employees operating sophisticated computers—and powered exoskeletons.

Automotive mechanics today operate on rolling computers that automatically turn on headlights, apply the brakes, regulate your speed, even parallel park your vehicle. And white-collar employers are increasingly interested in applicants who can dissect and solve complex problems, drawing from their own diverse experiences. Just as our grandfathers’ vocational education is no longer relevant in today’s world, neither is our grandmothers’ academic schooling.

Every youngster, whether college-bound or not, needs a heavy dose of math, science, finance and engineering basics to “make it” in our high tech world. That’s what the students in Japan, China, India and Europe are studying, and they are the children your children will be competing against. Every youngster, whether going into the trades or not, needs a heavy dose of problem-solving, applied learning, strategizing and grit.

Yet even as our world becomes more connected and as more people understand the need for something new in our education system, the two educational channels—vocational and traditional—remain siloed. In Rhode Island, we have two different state councils designed for each—councils that are starting to bridge the communications divide but could do much more to stay connected and improve each other’s efforts.

Our public school curricula are largely based on what we were teaching in the 1930s and earlier. But the scope of knowledge we have now is leaps and bounds ahead of what it was then. Our curricula and educational delivery mechanisms were determined before computers, before space flight, before cell phones and video games, before the internet and social media.

If your son or daughter can use a cell phone, operate an iPad or computer faster than you, and spend hours “chatting” via text or Facebook, there is no reason he/she cannot grasp a heavier dose of next-generation education that will make work life more interesting and far more profitable.

School administrators, teachers, school committees and teachers’ unions should be at the forefront of initiating this improvement in secondary education. But ask yourself: “Are they?”

Then ask yourself: “What can I do to facilitate the change?”

RI-CAN advocates for the success of every Rhode Island student, from pre-K through college and career. We improve policy to help all students thrive and share promising practices and stories to demonstrate that all kids CAN succeed. 


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