Margaret Spellings, US Secretary for Education led the first keynote with an inspiring talk around education in the United States, and gave some interesting ideas that could be taken elsewhere - as well as alerting us to some challenges faced in the US that could well be faced elsewhere.

Agile and Aligned

In the US, there are  14 million undergraduates. Half are enrolled in part-time courses. There is an increasing amount of mature students in tertiary education. Education needs to become more agile if it is to satisfy these needs, and increased technology is going to be a major factor in allowing this.

"HE must become more agile, informative and Student Centric."

Secretary Spellings emphasised the need for a greater alignment between the education establishments (high-schools, colleges, universities). The process needs to shift its mindset away from one school teaching one set of topics, one college teaching another set of topics...The thought instead should be one student being taught one set of skills. Wherever they are, however they want to learn. An article on aligning the standards of education in California at High School, and how this maps to College (University) entry is available here. Arizona also provides a short case study.

Mindmap of the keynote

At The Crossroads

Please click the picture to enlarge.

The wrong side of the tracks?

In the US, the gap between students who can afford higher education and the students who are struggling is narrowing, thanks in no small part to $400million grants to needy students in the US. Parents now have better information, and access to resources, that they may help their children make the right choices, and give them the benefits at home needed to set them on the right path. This is great news, and accessibility of education for all can only ever benefit a society.

The other side of the fence

It should be noted however, that getting (and retaining) students in higher education is only half of the battle. Teachers - fully trained, passionate and well resourced teachers, are the second key part of the education process. A scary number of teachers were leaving the US education system after a number of years up until recently, when reforms, programs and budget were brought in to tackle the problem. We must not forget that improving facilities and access for students can never solve a problem on its own - we must always forget the educators who are out there, making that personal connection with the student and inspiring them to learn, to want to learn, to love to learn.

A final thought

I leave you with this, final word from Secretary Spellings

"60 years after the the UN said education is a right for every student, 800 million people cannot read or write (and 2/3 of these are women). 1 in 4 children fail to get to Higher Education"

The US is doing an admirable job in tackling this problem with their No Child Left Behind Act, and associated programs, but the scale of the mountain left to climb is still immense.