Four years ago, my friend Kris Reynolds was exasperated. He had just spent hours helping his daughter study for a states and capitals test. After ten torturous rounds of flash cards, she had had enough. “Why do I have to know this?!” she whined. Kris gave it some thought. “You don’t.” he answered.
Since that time, Kris has been doing a lot of thinking about what his kids do need to know to be successful adults. After ten years of working in education, I spend a lot of time thinking it too. One thing I’ve discovered: knowledge is overrated. “Facts” are constantly changing as scientists, historians, and mathematicians discover more about the world we live in, making them an almost useless benchmark of education. Here’s a good example: remember learning about dinosaurs in school? Your kids are learning about them too—only they’re being told they looked like this.
Project Management in the ‘Real World’
Instead of facts which change with each new cover of National Geographic, let’s focus on something that will actually prepare your kids for a career—specifically, the ability to perform self-directed learning and problem-solving. In the “real world,” we call that project management. Once relegated to the nerdy world of IT, a recent survey showed that 80% of global executives believe that project management as a core competency helped them remain during the recession. That’s because project management, at its core, is the art of doing things that have never been done before.
A new movement is taking root in schools across America called PBL (project-based learning) which allows students to learn by doing open-ended projects aimed at solving real community problems. In the PBL classroom, the teacher is more of a facilitator and the learning is driven mostly by student curiosity. The proof is in the pudding: PBL classrooms report higher levels of critical thinking, higher long-term retention of knowledge, higher desire to learn, and more advanced skill development than peers in traditional classrooms.
There’s only one problem…even teachers who are committed to project-based learning don’t have formal training in the discipline of project management. So even in project-centric classrooms, students are short-changed. They learn to manage time (every project has a due date!) but rarely assume control of scope or budget. They live by due dates rather than milestones. They perform roles, rather than define and assign responsibility.
Fortunately, schools across America are starting to rectify this gap through programs like PM4Youth, founded by my friend Kris (remember him?). Programs like these teach project management directly to educators, administrators, and students—all while helping them execute a community capstone project from concept to completion. Students are given the opportunity to collaboratively define their scope, draft a charter, build a schedule, assign responsibility, and measure progress with minimal interference from adult leaders.
Bottom line: Our education system is like an old pair of jeans. It’s comfortable. It basically covers what it needs to cover. But it has some holes. Want your kid to be prepared for real life? Ask about bringing PM4Youth to your kids’ school, or research similar programs in your area (the PMI Educational Foundation is a great place to start.) Your kid’s future employer will thank you.