In the blink of just a few short years, the next generation of employees and entrepreneurs will enter the workforce. While we’d like to assume that these young people will start out on an equal educational footing, the reality is, they won’t.
Why is a complicated rat’s nest of social problems. Kids in bad neighborhoods or situations might not be able to focus or spend as much time on learning, for example. And underpaid teachers who work with up to 30 children in a single class can’t give individual attention to all students to find the way kids learn best. But probably the biggest area lawmakers and educators have focused on is supplies. They acknowledge that teachers are shelling out their own cash to make classrooms work and look not only to update textbooks, but also to close the existing digital divide.
All of the above issues are great reasons for individuals and companies to support schools financially. But let’s stop for a minute.
When business gurus talk about what successful careers and leadership entail, being a lifelong learner is always at the top of their discussion points. To some degree, this means just getting more knowledge. But they’re also talking about mentorship. Relationships. Experience. They stress over and over again how important it is to try new things, to get out and expose yourself to what’s different and new. It’s this exposure and connection that truly shapes a person into everything they can be, that gives them the broader perspective, sense of self and soft skills required to excel.
When kids are young, they get this kind of experience and connection largely through after school activities and programs, such as band or soccer. But mentoring or shadowing programs, field trips and community events contribute, too. Like technology, textbooks and good teacher wages, these opportunities have a price tag. The difference is, we see them as extras. So when funds are limited, they’re quick to be cut.
But they are not extra. They teach what you can’t find nestled in pages or mouse clicks, helping kids learn how to understand and deal with themselves and others. Those lessons matter every bit as algebra or chemistry or how to code, as current business buzz topics like emotional intelligence demonstrate.
So if we want strong leaders in companies that will last decades, we cannot settle for the bare minimum. We cannot be short-sided and think that paying for kids to learn processes and facts is enough. That alone will never level the playing field or result in truly mature behavior and thought. We also need to commit beyond that and show kids from every demographic and background what else there is in life. Maybe that means living a little more under our means or freeing up money by innovating in different areas. Maybe it means volunteering. And maybe, as the saying goes, it will take a village. But our kids need more.
Let’s not let them down.