This is something I’m passionate about - having worked in both a K-12 school district and a large university, as well as being the son of a professor. Okay so, from a U.S. perspective, here goes…
The shift to STEM and business proficiencies, and away from liberal arts, is a symptom of one underlying problem: the belief that education should be about preparation for the workplace and high-paying careers. This is not what education should be about, IMO. If education was about workplace preparation, then why, at the dawn of public education, did we take children away from productive jobs at their family farms just to learn how to read? The whole idea was to enrich the mind of a student, help them see the world in larger ways and multidisciplinary contexts, and hopefully provide fundamental skills that would be applicable in ALL fields of study. Foremost among those skills are of course the ability to think critically, to challenge our own assumptions, to be curious about the unknown, and to improve our understanding and abilities. All other disciplines should be a natural consequence of this foundation. But that is not what our education system here in the States does. Not by a long shot. Instead, it conditions children and young adults to memorize and regurgitate with no sense of interdisciplinary context, no critical examination (other than perhaps an overarching self-doubt and depressive anxiety), and no real training in higher-order thinking. So these young people learn how to pass tests, please instructors, and obtain a decent GPA….In other words, with the exception of a few innovative programs, conscientious instructors and courageous students who break from these expectations, our education system is an utterly idiotic waste of time and energy.
How did this happen? Well it would be easy to blame crony capitalism - to say that the State is just trying to churn out obedient cogs for their corporate benefactors. And to some degree (certainly regarding the overemphasis on STEM) that is probably true. It might also be convenient to blame standardization and institutionalization…the bigger the system, and the more conformity to predefined metrics that is required, the more homogenous and “watered down” the outcome. We could also blame poor diets and lack of exercise: feed kids excessive amounts of sugar and fat, and make them sit around all day, and you’re not likely to get high-performance brain function out of them. But we could also throw in a slew of additional factors: stressful lifestyles, increases in Autism Spectrum Disorder, increases in drug abuse and mental illness in youth, the breakdown of the nuclear family, postmodern skepticism and individualistic materialism as cultural norms, a technological landscape that grow exponentially more complex by the day, ever-accelerating cultural changes…. In reality I suspect all of these things in fact contribute to the poverty of mind and heart we too often encounter in the modern educational system. It’s not any one thing…it’s a convergence of pretty intense modern causal factors.
So what’s to be done? In my opinion, we need to address as many of those underlying causal factors as we can, and quickly, rather than pretending there is some sort of systemic magic wand (i.e. Charter Schools, revised educational standards, free college, etc.). For example, high quality education is often a consequence the relationship between a student and their parents - and parental involvement in and support of the education process - when the student is young. Parents need to participate and invest emotionally. How can some new K-12 policy make that happen by itself? And if students aren’t empowered with a more participatory, democratic environment throughout their educational experience, why should they ever feel the urge to “learn how to think, question and learn?” To take ownership of their own learning process? In a top-down, dictatorial institutional model, it’s much easier to just find out what the instructor wants, and provide lock-step, superficial conformance to those expectations without really learning anything. So I think the real answer is a much more…structural one. It has to do with how we operate in society as a whole, how we model behavior for our young, what we value and how we embody those values. If those who “succeed” in our society are living stressed-out unhappiness, are in constant debt, hate their ass-kissing jobs, medicate themselves with reality TV and pharmaceuticals, don’t actively participate in civil society other than via self-destructive consumption, how can we expect young people to be any different…? Thus our education system can’t be adequately reformed until our society is.
My 2 cents.
(From Quora question: https://www.quora.com/What-in-your-opinion-are-some-of-the-biggest-problems-with-education-and-traditional-educational-institutions