Monday, December 3, 2012

Learn 2 Math

I found a very amusing article on the BBC today.  It talked about education in the US and in particular how the current generation entering university can no longer expect to be better educated than their parents; college and university enrollments are lower than they were before.  A tragedy, to be sure, as it would no doubt be wonderful if we could expect forever increasing educational durations for future generations... but that pesky problem of percentages capping at 100 keeps cropping up.

Nobody seems to have bothered to consider that you can't have more than everybody going to university.  When you have only a tiny fraction of your population going to university as was the case a century ago it is very easy to push the rate up.  When you reach 70% enrollment you suddenly realize that some of your population just isn't interested and you can't actually push much further.  What exactly were people expecting?  Were we somehow going to have 150% of the population in university in 2050?

Certainly some metrics of health and well being are ever increasing and have no hard limits that we can see.  My access to information is going up and up and because bandwidth and server capacity aren't remotely near any sort of cap I am sure I will have even more information I cannot possibly find time to access as the years go by.  Percentages, on the other hand, have this pesky problem with being bounded.  Math can be a harsh mistress.

There are real problems with education in the US.  Access to it is becoming too strongly based on family wealth and the cost of churning out graduates with no relevant skills is too high.  What is not a problem though is the fact that not everybody goes to university.  Everybody getting a university education is neither possible nor desirable.

If you want a real problem to solve, talk about how journalists who are functionally innumerate write articles about education citing statistics designed to get a rise out of people skimming articles instead of conveying useful information.  Solving *that* problem would lead to a far better educated population than cramming more people into universities who really shouldn't be there in the first place.

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