March 6, 2008

Architecting Smart Kids and Enterprise Architecture

We’ve been hearing for years about our poor elementary and high school educational system in this country. For years, test scores have trailed our competitors in other countries across the globe. This has been especially true in science and math and has affected the number of qualified engineers we are producing as a nation. These are often the people who would take us into the future from an innovation standpoint.

The Wall Street Journal, 29 February 2008, asks “What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?”

“By one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year old students who were tested in 57 countries.”

By contrast, “American teens finished among the world’s C students even as educators piled on more homework, standards, and rules.”

So is it something in the Finnish drinking water or some magic vitamin that makes them outdo us academically?

“High school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don’t start school until age 7.”

“Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm, and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they’re way ahead in math, science, and reading—on track to keeping Finns among the world’s most productive workers.”

On the most recent test sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “Finland’s students placed first in science, and near the top in reading and math…[and] in first place overall….the U.S. placed in the middle of the pack.

So here’s the magic elixir—2 things:

  1. Reading—Remember the commercial here in the states that said “reading is fun-damental”? Well in Finland reading really is. Finns love reading. “Parents of newborns receive a government-paid gift pack that includes a picture book. Some libraries are attached to shopping malls, and a book bus travels to more remote neighborhoods like a Good Humor truck.”
  2. Self-reliance—While in the U.S., teens and even people well into their 20’s and even 30’s are hopelessly dependent on mommy and daddy and have been moving back home and throwing their dirty socks in the corner of their rooms, Finns are self-reliant from an early age.

“The Finns enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, but they too worry about falling behind in the shifting global marketplace.” Based on their relative educational success, it is us Americans that should be doing more worrying.

If we are to architect success in our students’ educational scores and futures, it will not be by driving them into early adulthood through the paranoid assignment of an avalanche of nightly homework. Our children are ridden with test scores and admission anxiety, even as they continue to flunk by international standards.

Using enterprise architecture as our guide, we need to teach not to grow up faster, but to enjoy being a creative, questioning child. We need to inspire children not with fear for their future, but rather with a sincere love of learning (and of reading, and exploring, and of trying new things). We must not hold our children’s hands forever in paranoid fear, but rather teach them to be confident, self-reliant, innovative, and adventurous. We must not push our children to be “doctors, lawyers, or accountants”—to make lots of money—but rather must encourage them to go after their dreams and passions. These are strengths that education alone will not provide for our children’s future.


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