Education reforms have been a continuous process throughout history. Since education began, there have been many changes which have embraced certain changes in society and these have strived to provide more effective education and knowledge to society. Education has moved from the provision of basic skills needed for survival to development of curricular which suits the needs of the modern society and business environment (Cuban, 2003). Initially, education aimed at providing basic knowledge and skills to the younger generation to help them provide to the basic needs of society such protection, technology, professions such as medicine, arts and other cultural attributes of society. However, with technological innovation and embracing the modern lifestyle, education has been tailored to meet the needs of society in order to ensure that students are molded to professionals who possess skills and knowledge needed to satisfy the needs of the economy.
Education reforms began as early as the 1800s when it was realized that knowledge needed to be shared not only within the upper social classes but across the society irrespective of gender or social class (Comer, 2002). Philosophers such as Plato played an important role in shaping education reforms during this period. During the 19th century, scholars such as Dewey influenced education reform after the realization that education did not match the practical aspects of the society then. Since then, numerous reforms have been implemented including the No Child Left Behind policy which provides education for all. The paper will discuss education reform during various historical ages. The discussed issues will be summarized at the end.
Before the 1800s, education was limited to the people who had a high social status. This segment of society could afford private tutors for their children. Boys usually received education which involved knowledge on culture and arts, basic arithmetic and grammar to help them read literature, skills on warfare to protect communities and the society at large. Boys also received knowledge on leadership traits and how to lead their households and families. Girls on the other hand received limited education and this involved on culture and arts, basic arithmetic and grammar to help them manage their households and appreciate culture and art.
There were also grammar schools which taught students basic language and arithmetic normally used for reading literature and managing finances. However, these were run by Protestants and there was a limitation in funding. This limitation allowed only children from wealthy families to access education. After it was recognized that there was a need to reach larger numbers of students, Bell and Lancaster, two top scholars developed the monitorial system. Under this system, gifted students taught the less gifted ones. This system of education reduced annual education costs to less than $20 for students in US and across the world. However, further reforms were needed to address the challenges in the education system. The committee of eight presented developed various reforms in the education system including standardizing education and setting four years for high school and eight years for elementary school.
During the 19th century
There were various scholars who influenced education reform during this period. These include Dewey, Rousseau, Thoreau, Walden and others. These people were critical thinkers who helped develop substantial reforms in the education system. Although some of their theories and perspectives failed to be implemented, most of their thoughts on the education process were fully embraced not only by the US but across the world. Rousseau and Dewey advocated for the introduction of a practical approach when teaching students as opposed to over-reliance on theoretical learning (Tanner, 1997). Dewey undertook research which revealed that students did not have the practical know-how to solve real life problems since most of what they learned was theoretical. He opted to a shift in a curriculum which encouraged critical thinking and practical application of knowledge learned.
Rousseau also shared a similar view and advocated for separation of children from society and the application of their curiosity as a drive for them to learn practical solutions to challenges in society. Both believed that education could be used to empower and enlighten society. This led to education reforms where the curriculum was shifted from merely providing theoretical knowledge on students but providing practical lessons which could be used to tackle realistic problems. The educational reforms also focused on encouraging learning based on critical thinking and logic as opposed to previous focus on traditions and customs. This paved the way for technological innovations and the development of theories in various professions.
During the 20th century
This is a significant period in history where major reforms on education were made. During the 1960s and 1970s, the US faced racial segregation against blacks and minorities (Kohn, 2008). After this period, racial discrimination ended due to black rights movements among other factors. The education system which had previously favored whites began being reformed to accommodate blacks and other minority groups. Progressive education which embraced experience during the learning process was also accommodated into the education curriculum. This learning process followed various steps when dealing with challenges in the educational curriculum. These include problem identification, definition, developing hypothesis and proposing solutions to the problem.
There were also several legislations which were passed during this period which affected the education system. Policies such as the No Child Left Behind made it mandatory for parents to take children to school. This ensured that all children regardless of backgrounds, had access to education. Another legal policy which affected the education system was the National Education Goals which were passed by Congress in 2000 (Darling, 2008). This policy required districts and states to develop standards and instruments which would be used to assess the ability of students to perform required tasks or understand required content. Other forms of education reforms during the 20th Century can be traced to the administrative progressivism. These reforms can be attributed to various features which are in the current high schools in the US. These include increase in federal and state bureaucracy and regulation, counseling programs in schools, curricular differentiation such as tracking and electives, move towards large centralized schools, standardization and reduced local control of school boards.
Where we currently stand on education reform
The current position of the education curriculum and system is very different from earlier ages. There has been significant improvement in the education system and its objectives especially pertaining to the needs of the American society. Several challenges which were present during earlier times such as inaccessibility of education by people of a lower social class of ethnic grouping and gender have been eliminated. The present education system does not discriminate against any ethnic or cultural background. In addition, gains have been made in increasing the number of children who have access to education. Previously, fewer children, and especially those in the upper income group, could access education. However, currently there are policies which make it illegal for any parent not to ensure their child has access to education. The No Child Left Behind made it mandatory for parents to take children to school (Glazek & Sarason, 2007). In addition, there is adequate funding for education facilities and personnel both at the state and federal levels. The requirement that districts and states develop standards and instruments used to assess the ability of students to perform required tasks or understand required content, has improved the quality of education accessed by students.
.However, there are various challenges which face the current education system which threaten to reverse the gains made by education reforms. One of these challenges is education for special needs children. There are many children who have different handicaps which necessitate special facilities and personnel in the education system. Currently, there are inadequate teachers and facilities to cater for this category of students. Unless this problem is urgently addressed, the objectives of education reforms will not be met. This problem should be addressed through allocating more resources at the federal and state levels to cater for special needs children. The development of training facilities to provide personnel to cater for these children should also be a core priority (Sarason, 2006).
Another challenge which faces the education system is the weakness in the current syllabus. The current syllabus stresses on memorization for purposes of passing examinations as opposed to instilling practical knowledge to students which can be applied in real life situations. As a result, many students are unable to practically apply what they learn from academic institutions to the professional world. This should be addressed by developing syllabus aimed at encouraging students to be critical thinkers and innovators who develop solutions to problems faced in the modern world. Asian countries such as Japan and China have embraced this approach and it has helped them be some of the leading countries in terms of technology in the world.
Summary and conclusion
Various aspects relating to education reforms have been discussed in the paper. Education has moved from the provision of basic skills needed for survival to development of curricular which suits the needs of the modern society and business environment. Before the 1800s, education was limited to the people who had a high social status. During the 19th Century, Rousseau and Dewey advocated for the introduction of a practical approach when teaching students as opposed to over-reliance on theoretical learning. This led to education reforms where the curriculum was shifted from merely providing theoretical knowledge on students but providing practical lessons which could be used to tackle realistic problems.
During the 20th Century, the education system which had previously favored whites began being reformed to accommodate blacks and other minority groups. There were also several legislations which were passed during this period which affected the education system. Currently, the education system does not discriminate against any ethnic or cultural background. In addition, gains have been made in increasing the number of children who have access to education. Modern challenges include the inadequate teachers and facilities to cater for special needs students and the weakness in the current syllabus which stresses on memorization for purposes of passing examinations as opposed to instilling practical knowledge. These problems should be addressed through allocating more resources at the federal and state levels to cater for special needs children and developing syllabus aimed at encouraging students to be critical thinkers and innovators who develop solutions to problems faced in the modern world. This will ensure that education empowers students to achieve their potential in life.