SKINNERS: Students today fall short in critical-thinking, problem-solving skills
Free Press Opinion Columnists
HE SAID: This month is the time for young people to begin new lives as graduations take place across the country. During our travels to Michigan to see our daughter receive her MBA, I reflected on the significant transformations that have taken place since we graduated. Today’s students live in a diversified, globalized, technological world with new challenges for landing a job.
SHE SAID: And there is still the uncertainty of obtaining a job. I trained to be a teacher because we were told “there will always be a need for teachers.” Not true, especially in secondary social studies. That was fortunate, however, because it forced me to try something new to become employed.
I changed jobs and careers many times over the last 45 years, and I was lucky to be able to read, write and make decisions well because those skills were the most important in seeking and retaining those jobs.
As I watched the graduates march and read the incomprehensible topics of their dissertations, I wondered what it would take to be a successful grad student now when technology is changing so much more rapidly than it did before.
HE SAID: You have focused on the real problem. Technology in our lifetime has challenged our generation more than any other in history. From the atomic bombs that heralded us in as baby boomers to the Google generation, we have seen every aspect of life altered. Both of us have been complimented for surviving changes in career paths several times in our lives. But our children are facing a life of constant renewing of careers with experts predicting as many as 10-14 predicted switches. I know our daughters now have jobs that did not exist when they were undergraduates.
Not all of the technological changes have necessarily helped business. I constantly run into problems where employees in banks and investment firms are taught to manage risk by consulting a manual of how to respond to reduce risk instead of how to solve problems. For example, a bank was willing to take an account for a revocable trust, but when it came to dealing with the death of the person who set it up, I couldn’t find anyone who understood or had been trained to deal with the product they had issued.
Three hours later and after numerous phone calls to higher ups, the issues were finally resolved when we got their lawyer to talk to the lawyer for the deceased for five minutes. During all that time, the bank employees could have been doing productive work instead of trying to say “no” because they were not trained on how to handle what was in front of them. So all of this technology has brought us too much data, yet real problem-solving knowledge is limited to fewer and fewer.
SHE SAID: Many young people cannot discriminate between knowledge they need to complete a task and facts that have nothing to do with what they are trying to accomplish. Critical-thinking skills get ignored in the quest to cover huge amounts of information that most students do not comprehend. We would do well to emulate the Ross School of Business method where students are asked to gain knowledge to solve real world problems instead of memorizing facts and theories.
Instead of disrespecting the smart student and innovative teachers, we should honor them as much as the star athletes. The majority of students at our daughter’s ceremony were non-Anglo students with Asian heritage because learning and achievement are revered in their homes. Now if jobs cannot be found for all these people who are achievers, then perhaps they will have to invent their own. That could be another world changer.
The Skinners hope technology is not a crutch for you, but a tool for inspiration and communication. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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