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Getting Creative With Our Education

How to develop the next generation of thinkers and doers.

With back to school in full swing, now's a good time for everyone to revisit what expectations they set at the start of the school year. Whether it is getting students more engaged or how a high-quality curriculum can be taught to a class of 35 versus 25, these are real issues faced in classrooms every single day. The one thing that is constant is that education affords us the opportunities to pursue our dreams, and we must be in a position to support the next generation of leaders in a way that enables them to dream big.

As President Obama recently advised in a speech at the University of Texas at Austin: "The way to move forward is to put education and opportunity always go hand in hand.” Yet as higher education costs continue to climb, forcing many to forego it for financial reasons, that idea seems even more distant. We must develop creative solutions to solve this and other educational challenges. Some innovative ideas include:

Leveraged technology: Since students today are comfortable with computers and other electronic devices, why not take advantage of that aptitude and better train teachers how to share information with students? Teachers should know how to leverage social media, online materials and computer programs, when appropriate. Many do already, recognizing that textbooks aren’t always the best answer. For math, perhaps a video game will prove a better teaching tool; for science, it might be an online video of live plant cell. MIND Research Institute, for instance, is using non-language-based, visual instructional software to teach math to students. It’s revolutionizing how math is taught in America.

Alternatives to traditional education: Learning is a lifelong journey and shouldn’t stop once you’ve joined the adult workforce. Unfortunately, many can’t afford to return to school. Although President Obama’s fiscal 2011 education budget includes $173 billion in loans, grants, tax credits and work-study programs to help students attend college, a gap remains between students wanting to attend college and those who enroll and graduate. Open courseware, like PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Open University, offers free online classes, and while several universities have offered free online courses for years, PwC is the first in the accounting industry to open its online doors to the public and make dozens of its developed courses readily available. Other companies should do the same.

Teaching sustainability: Issues such as climate change, carbon footprint, renewable energy and sustainability are all terms we’ve heard, but do most students really know what they mean? Climate change, for example, will be a top-of-mind issue for global leaders for decades to come. Incorporating it into today’s curriculum will help students understand the importance of this issue to our planet. Its future implications can help spur interest and innovative thinking, as well as promote the transition to a truly green economy.

As we watch the parade of yellow school buses drive by again, it’s important to remember that opportunities for learning emerge year-round. Taking a lifelong approach to learning and being open-minded about how and what we learn offer the best way to develop the next generation of thinkers and doers.

Shannon Schuyler is currently the Corporate Responsibility Leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers and is a member of the board for the firm’s foundation. Schuyler is an expert on corporate responsibility, service, social innovation, and youth education.

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