Friday, November 13, 2009

Education in Georgia

When I chose the “Education” breakout session as a recent IBM “Smarter Planet” event, my two topics of interest where professional development for women (having observed that women are interested in having it, but only if their employers pay for it) and global curiosity (having observed that not just Georgians but Americans in general are fiercely uncurious about other countries, cultures, languages, people, and global careers.

During the 2-hour discussion, the focus, however, was Georgia’s high school dropout rate; causes and possible remedies. In the process, I learned a few things.

In Atlanta schools, 65-70% of the teachers are “old”, have tenure and are not prepared for the 21st century, despite lots of training. Unions are to blame. Teachers want to be regarded as “professionals”, but unionization prohibits this image.

Top university graduates do not want to go into teaching; parental pressure: “We did not send you to college to become a teacher!” Teachers come out of the bottom 1/3 of college graduates.

Skills needed for the future: communications, how to think; today’s young people are on-line, but do not know how to communicate.

Inadequate education leads to crime, New York City, with a population of 8.8 million has 13,000 people in jail; Atlanta, with a population of 4 million, has 14,000 in jail. The recidivism rate is 40%. What can Georgia do better?

Young people’s attitudes need to change. Very few will become super athletes or rock stars. How about parental expectations? “Below the gnat line” (Augusta-Macon-Columbus), with the exception of Savannah, fathers still tell their sons that education beyond high school is not necessary: “I did well enough without going to college, and you can too!”

The topics I proposed? Professional education was barely touched on (only by a school system administrator, who said there is plenty of it, costs the system tons of money and delivers few if any noticeable results) and the necessity of educating our children so that they can compete for jobs with global counterparts was endorsed by only one of the other 15 or so people in the room. I had hoped to ask if the participants were aware of the “Two Million Minutes” documentary (, but the focus was so immediately local that the opportunity did not present itself.

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