Sometimes I think that life should offer more credit by examination. I know that in some places, tests with odd designations like GCSE or "O" levels or SAT or what-have-you bring stark and unforgettable change in the fortunes of people who grow up on places so age-ist that it is assumed that all opportunities must be exercised by people between the age of 16 and the age of 24. I don't mean to set up any absolute rules, like "those who can fill in the blanks with a number 2 pencils can skip the real work to achieve things".
I'm speaking instead in a vague, undefined way about being able to make changes in one's lot in life through achieving competence.
I like the idea of the Van Cliburn Foundation's recent contest. They encourage piano amateurs all over the world to submit youtubes of their piano play. Is the "grand prize" fame, fortune, or media largesse? Hardly.
The winner gets a space in the annual competition--a mere place in the running. To me, this is all of a piece with the goal of distance learning--those who can demonstrate a competence outside the framework of the traditional classroom should be able to get recognition.
I used to enjoy the Ohio list of courses that can be taken by correspondence or examination. I loved to read of all the arcane things from which one could choose to test for college credit. Nowadays, distance learning is so frequent as to comprise for-profit companies and profit centes of land grant universities. I used to love the way that UCLA Extension offered certificate programs in things like interior design--people could and did take a handful of night courses to get a competency, and learned to earn a living in a field without the need for the entire 124 hours.
I think that vocational education has come so far in recent years--and yet the progress is still so far from complete. One day courses, month-of-weekend courses, how-to-get-a-skill weekends, six month job trainings, apprenticeships and craft programs--there's a need for all of those things. It's not so much a matter of tossing out the virtues of ivy-covered institutions with their rigorous standards. It's that we're moving into a time when the old rigidities still have their place, but in a much more narrow sense.
I don't want my surgeon to go to DeVry--but I wouldn't be troubled at all if my radiology technician went on successive weekends to Community College.
I liked the examination experience. I am particularly good at learning from flash cards. If the concepts can be expressed on a flash card, I can learn to grok its fullness. I like the idea of achieving a competence in something without the pain and expense of a traditional degree.
I hear of people--bright, educable, often even degreed-- who have a terrible time finding jobs that pay a meaningful wage. I hear of jobs, often in the medical or tech sector, which go begging for applicants.
These are the kind of career transitions that could be done much more elegantly than is now the case.
I tend to think that post-secondary education in general deserves more funding--particularly as tuition rates inevitably cause the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. I'd allocate what resources we have to community colleges and to public libraries. Learning experiences are the name of the game, not only vocationally, but for people's personal improvement. It's all a matter of opportunity and interface.
There is a broad swath of people who have trouble overcoming educational disadvantages and the effects of poverty. But there are worlds of poeple less afflicted by such problems, that just need the chances to
find a better way. To me, school should be non-traditional, open, and accessible. There's no reason in an internet age this can't be true. I don't mean (though I admire) just making courses from MIT available to all. I mean instead a comprehensive look at education less as a credential factory and more as a way to give people the ammunition to improve their lives--not only in their livelihood, but in every way.
A few people start from the premise that anything "portable" and un-traditional in career training/education must be inferior. Yet distance learning is catching on precisely because "skillz" and not "credentials" are the new name of the game.
I see a new world of possibilties, and they all include marking the form with "A", B" ,"C", or "D".
It's all a mtater of shifting gears from a "ribbon" mindset to a "skills" mindset. I see the change beginning, and just in time. Now if the overture will lead to a symphony worthy of the promise of the very hummable first twenty bars.