[Learning Manifesto Video: https://youtu.be/NWfGjG7kqDE]
I live in the desert of West Texas in Odessa, Ector County, an area plagued by a very unusual economy. The primary industry throughout this region is oil and gas. Currently, our economy is really strong, with a very low unemployment rate. Our unemployment rate for May 2018 was 2.8%. (Texas Workforce Commission, https://lmci.state.tx.us/)
The strength of the economy and the lure of high paying jobs in the oilfield entices people from all over the state, the country, and the world. Those working in the oilfield work long, grueling hours, but many of them make a great deal of money while they are here. During these times of economic upswing, the population of our small city increases by a minimum of 30%. Apartments and rental properties are difficult to find, and rent increases significantly during these times so that those who are not employed in the oil and gas industry find it difficult to stay in the area. Service industries cannot keep up with the high wages paid by the oil and gas industry; as such many educators and educational employees are lured away to work in higher paying jobs in the oil and gas industry. Hotel rooms are even harder to find, and the rates are very high. As an example, for Motel 6 in Odessa, Texas, a weekend rate is around $110 per night. But for that same hotel for Sunday through Thursday nights, you can expect to pay an average of around $300 per night. (Booking.com)
So what does that mean for education? Well, in most places that means that enrollment in higher education starts to decline. But what we’ve seen here is that our enrollment rates are steady, even while the economy strengthens. This is amazing, as oil companies recruit heavily, and offer really huge paychecks for little or no education. Sadly, this also means that our high schools lose lots of students to the workforce. During 2016/2017, according to the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), with a statewide attrition rate of 24% our area schools lost 40% of their students. In other words, of the cohort of students who started 9th grade in 2013/2014, 40% did not finish grade 12. This is taking into consideration a variety of algorithms, including district population fluctuations during that time. According to the US Census Bureau, only 77.7% of our youth receive a high school diploma or equivalent by the time they are 25 years of age, as compared to the statewide average of 82.3%. Just as a point of comparison, this percentage is, according to the Census, around 85.3% for Beaumont, Texas. So though we are recovering some of those students who were lost to attrition, the number of students who complete with a high school diploma or equivalent is still far below state and national averages in this area. This demonstrates that the residents of this community may not fully understand the relevance of education. As an employee of Odessa College, I take these numbers very seriously, and am passionate about finding ways to effect change.
Odessa College is unique in that it has the largest service district of all community colleges in Texas. The Odessa College service area encompasses 33,000 square miles. Odessa/Ector County is the largest community, and most of the students of Odessa College are from Ector County (approximately 75% according to local data from Colleague our Student Information System). So in addition to losing so many learners to attrition, we also are not reaching enough of the potential learners within our service area. .
In order to make a difference, changes need to be made. And educators need to make changes so that they can reach learners where they are, using the tools they have available to them. Learners’ needs have changed significantly as technology has evolved. Kindergarten through grade 12 learners have grown up with hand-held technology available to them. Google and other search engines have changed the way learners do research. Our educational system needs to evolve to meet those needs. Learners need to embrace the educational opportunities that they are provided. Parents need to instill in their children the value of education. But just as important as making changes to the way that our education system functions, we need to work with parents to ensure that they are instilling the value of education in their children, helping them develop into lifelong learners.
My Learning Manifesto
Evolving Educational Systems
My learning manifesto includes an educational system that evolves as society changes, as technology advances, as learners’ needs change. Our current educational system was designed based on an agrarian economy; children attended school between September and May, and were out for harvest times in summer. As Ken Robinson points out (Robinson, 2010), our educational system was set up in the same way a factory is established. Children are grouped by age, or as he puts it “Manufacture Date.” But is age the most important attribute when grouping learners? Learners’ needs have changed dramatically, with cultural, economic, technological changes. But the educational system has not evolved to meet the needs of learners, or the cultural and economic trends in our society. The educational model we have is no longer relevant, and should evolve to meet the changing needs of our society.
Parents as Teachers
Parents are a child’s first teacher. And whether intentionally or unintentionally, parents are constantly teaching their children by what they say and by their actions, (Winter, 2001.) As such, parents should play a very active role in all aspects of the education of the child, serving as active partners with the educational system, and not relying solely on the educational system to teach their children. My learning manifesto includes a partnership between parents and the schools, where parents are involved from birth, through their child’s Kindergarten through grade 12 education and beyond. Parents would instill in their children the value of education, producing lifelong learners. By having parents/guardians and schools in partnership to support learners, educators will be better able to share information about the importance of continuing education through college, and would be able to help the parents/guardians and the learners in preparing for higher education. Parents/guardians could develop an understanding of why their child should go to college rather than taking a lucrative high-paying job in the oil industry right out of high school. (KnowHowToGo.com) This strengthened parent/educator partnership might help to keep more of the learners from our area in school (IDRA, 2017), and increase college-going and college-completion rates to at least a rate comparable with the state and the nation (US Census, 2018).
Authentic, Project-Based Learning
My manifesto includes a system that makes education relevant for the learner, using hands-on project-based activities, allowing the learner to solve real world problems and use critical thinking to identify solutions. We need to take advantage of the natural curiosity that children have, and incorporate project-based learning at an early age to empower children to become critical thinkers with real-world problem solving skills. And we need to ensure that they have engaging learning environments with authentic learning experience throughout their education, to ensure that they learn to choose and take ownership of their learning, using their voices through authentic learning. (Thibodeaux).
Technology to Keep Learners Engaged
In my manifesto, the technological devices used by the learner are not considered distractions from learning, but disruptions to the way we learn and teach. We as educators must identify ways to take advantage of those technologies to keep learners engaged. By using the technology that learners use regularly for communication and play in education, those technology devices move from being learning distractions to disruptive learning tools that transform the way we educate and they learn.
Learning Experiences Spanning Time and Distance
And we need to create more opportunities to reach learners who are bound by place and time, such as those in the small rural communities of the Odessa College service area which encompasses 33,000 square miles of rural West Texas. (Odessa College, 2018). Digital learning opportunities must be increased, and designed to be delivered through hand-held devices to reach those learners in more remote areas to ensure that our remote learners have equitable access to educational opportunities. Just as we are using the technology our learners use for play and communication in education, we should be using those devices to reach our learners that are remote to bridge the gap of distance, and remove barriers of time.
Working together… educators, parents, the community… we can identify ways to improve the way we are delivering education, and the way that learners are engaging with educational experiences, so that learners become critical thinking problem solvers, and informed citizens of the digital age.
Booking.com. Retrieved from https://www.booking.com, 24-June-2018
Intercultural Development Research Association. (2017) Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2016-2017. Retrieved from http://www.idra.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Texas-Public-School-Attrition-Study-2016-17-by-IDRA-sm.pdf 19-June-2018
Know How To Go (http://knowhow2go.acenet.edu
Odessa College: Description and History. (2018). Odessa College Website. Retrieved 25-June-2018. https://www.odessa.edu/future-students/about/description-and-history/index.html
Robinson, K. (2010). RSA ANIMATE: Changing Education Paradigms. Retrieved 25-June-2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U
Texas Workforce Commission. Labor Market Information. Retrieved from https://lmci.state.tx.us/, 19-June-2018
Thibodeaux, T. (N.D.) Passport to Learning: Turning Today’s Learners into Tomorrow’s Leaders. Retrieved 25-June-2018, http://tilisathibodeaux.com/wordpress/?page_id=1539
US Census Bureau. Quick Facts. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/ 19-June-2018
Winter, M. (2001). Parents as Teachers: Improving the Odds with Early Intervention. In B. Sornson (Ed.), Preventing Early Learning Failure (Chapter 11).