Education, innovation, and tradition

A little more about the following excerpt from Satya Nadella’s message to Microsoft employees:

Our industry does not respect tradition–it only respects innovation.

Tradition is important within certain contexts–take family traditions, for example. The rituals practiced with loved ones provide memories, bonding, and a shared history that passes to the next generation. Values stretch throughout the years this way.

Religious services also benefit from tradition. Congregating and repeating words and actions help us remember what’s important as we practice outwardly what we believe to be sacred. Regular participation in familiar worship provides comfort for many people–especially during difficult seasons in life.

Traditions also give nations and countries an identity and sense of unity. Songs, holidays, and monuments converge, flooding citizens with a sense of belonging and pride.

But in which contexts are traditions unimportant, perhaps even detrimental? Satya Nadella says the technology industry doesn’t respect tradition–only innovation. For example, Apple couldn’t keep the image of a CD for it’s iTunes icon; it no longer makes sense. Microsoft can’t expect people to save documents to their computer’s hard drive anymore. Other computer companies can’t use the traditional PC as a model for most future products–not when the internet is being accessed more frequently by handheld (and wearable!) devices.

Education has long held traditions. Unfortunately, many of these are outdated and no longer necessary. Should students sit in rows like a factory? Does a teacher dispense knowledge, or should students work collaboratively on 1:1 devices to construct their own learning? Are the skills they are learning–cursive, geography, dodgeball in P.E.–needed in a 21st century world. (Picking on geography, do students need to memorize the cities in a foreign country when they have a smartphone in their pockets? Do they need to memorize anything that can be easily accessed via the internet?) Should school be 180 days a year, 8:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M., or should students learn everyday–even after 3:00 P.M.?

Education needs to fundamentally change, and then it needs to continue changing when needed. There is no resting place, just like there isn’t for technology.

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