Startup Community leaders in Poland keep asking when is the next Polish great success story going to happen? I have covered some of the possible solutions. I proposed that in order to have a world class startup, you need world class customer service, not only in the startups but across the board. I have also proposed that you need to diversify your startup community in order to get different ideas and viewpoints to mix. In this post I would like to make another proposal in getting our entrepreneurial community to the next level. It comes from the root of entrepreneurship, EDUCATION.
Education is a tough subject to tackle due to the large amount of stakeholders. I will try to do it in a logical progression. One might assume that the education system be it here in Poland or there wherever you are, do a good job in training students to become part of the corporate machine, not a self determining critical thinking sentient being.
Before tackling education, one must understand one thing. The US is not in danger of a fall in population because of immigration and the up-coming Latin explosion. However, here in Europe, the native population is falling. People are not getting married as early or if at all. Women are focusing more on career than family. Couples are not having the 2.5 kids needed to replace the previous generations. As in the US, the boomers are getting old. As a result, there aren't as many students out there. This trend means teachers are losing jobs and schools are competing for students. Consequently, schools need to lower their standards just to stay in business. Another way schools are trying to stay in business is to go to China to get students. I think it is a great idea! Native people might not like it, but this is a good reason for immigration.
In the Polish educational system, students are not taught to be responsible for what they are learning and doing. A lot of it is institutional. In order to get into a college, students have to pass a number of Maturity exams. However, unlike in the US where the student's work in high school and overall personal progress is part of the college admission process, in Poland, a student could be mucking about during the whole primary and secondary schooling and learn absolutely nothing and just have a lucky week at the exams and get into a prestigious university like Jagiellonian. I believe that a student's school work in secondary school should be part of the college admission process in order to get the student and the teachers to care about the learning of the student. I also think that they should get rid of Religion in the school systems. Given that the Catholic church is losing customers and the amount of instruction time in a student's timetable is quite limited, I believe that the time could be used in a more constructive manner.
On the university level, there aren't too much attention paid on accountability either. Students are given almost unlimited tries in order to pass the exam of a given subject where as in the US, you are given maximum two tries or you would have to repeat the course. the students can even try to pass a subject at a later date. This leniency promotes apathy and laziness. On a given weekday afternoon on a Polish campus, you will see students hanging out in the quads drinking beers rather than doing something constructive. In a study of 3375 American and 1408 Polish university students was accomplished to test the hypotheses that cultural differences influence drinking patterns and beverage preferences between countries. Using the same questionnaire in both samples, the results revealed that significantly (P < 0.001) more drinks per week were consumed by both Polish male (24.9) and female (15.2) students compared to American male (15.0) and female (7.6) students. It's almost a good thing that the drinking age in the US is 21. There is also a lack of self initiative. AGH had two great programs in the past school year.
PAMI was something where top lecturers from Stanford and other top schools as well as business leaders from the US were invited to AGH by the US consulate to give lecturs and inspire the students to entrepreneurship. Nest was a program where Innovation Nest, a local incubator/acclerator, and Lukasz Kostka, co-founder of Estimote went to give very practical lecturs on how to go from student to entrepreneur. The turn out in both events was not as great as the quality of the product. In the US and western Europe, people pay top dollars to attend such events. However, in AGH despite the free food and free entrance the turn out sucked. Some might argue that it was the marketing. However, I will argue that the student's priorities are in the wrong place.
Tests Tests Tests
These days, there has been an unhealthy obsession with testing. Standardised tests have become a high stakes game. The school system has a stake because it demonstrates their effectiveness and can mean bonuses for principals and other admin personnel. The testing agency has a stake because it is big business. The government has a stake due to bragging rights and to be able to say that they are doing something well. Testing is great if given the right way. However, most of the time standardised testing fail in assessing how much is learned. Some people might point out that inner city kids will never know how it is to raise pigs when it comes up on reading comprehension. As a result, there are lots of cheating in Polish education. The great Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson once said,"When students cheat on exams, it is because the school system value grades more than student value learning."
You might think that I am anti-Maturity test. I think it is a good idea when combined with other metrics. Most of the tests given in Poland only covers the first two tiers of Bloom's Taxonomy, remembering and understanding. The same can be said for people taking the FCE and the CAE Cambridge English language exams. There are people who have passed the FCE and CAE with good grades but cannot have a serious conversation in English. In Poland, so much attention is focused on grammar, that the content of the conversation is irrevalent. the Polish language is so grammar heavy that your intelligence can be measured by how good your grammar is. It is true to some extent in English but the language is flexible and there are a variety of English spoken that grammar mistakes can be forgiven. As an technical English language facilitator in university, it is my job to make sure that the students are able to converse with correct grammar and have a good range of vocabulary. However, it is also my job as a startup envanglist to taech the students to think critically and creatively as well.
Critical thinking, being curious, and other top tier thinking on Bloom's is something that is not taught in the Polish education system. They can tell you obscure facts in different topics. However, to ask them to apply them to solve problems or to create something from nothing from that knowledge is hard. That is something that I try to do in my classes. I believe that the critical thinking skills will serve them better in a practical way than the English language skills that I am helping them achieve.
At the moment, the education system is not meeting the needs of the entrepreneurial community and the business community. One of the way that the community is improving the situation is to offer students some opportunities to work before they graduate. May forward thinking students have taken this opportunity to gain some valuable on the job experience. Students report that this experience is more useful than most of the theoretical knowledge they learned in school. I believe that the education system needs to get students to be more accountable to what they are learning. More critical thinking, independent, and practical problem solving need to be taught at all levels. We need to get the students ready to face the problems and create solutions for the rest of this century and beyond.
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