A recent Gallup poll of 1 million students in the U.S. found that only half report feeling engaged in school and one-fifth are actively disengaged. The poll showed engagement levels decline significantly as students get older, bottoming out in 11th grade.
According to Gallup, several things might help explain this trend, including the “lack of experiential and project-based learning pathways for students.”
In other words, students need to understand why they are learning. They need to be able to tie what they are learning today to their future. Business leaders, industry experts, policy leaders and mentors can shape and engage the students of today and inspire them to pursue their dreams. Technology, when used effectively, can play a big role in helping teachers bring these real-world role models into the classroom.
A class in California can talk with an engineer in Florida, or a class in New Mexico can learn from a biologist in New Jersey. This is possible through technology platforms like Nepris, which connects teachers and students with industry experts virtually.
Professionals can create a profile in Nepris of their skills and talents they want to share with students. Teachers can post topics that their class wants to learn. Technology then matches the professionals with the right skills to the teachers with the interested students. If it works for professional networking and online dating, then why not for mentoring students?
Teachers like Susan Manning and her students at Compadre High School in Arizona are connecting with professionals working in fields ranging from medicine to music production. Professionals convey information to her students, including necessary coursework, career opportunities and the importance of developing leadership qualities. Students can also take the initiative to submit one-on-one session requests and connect with experts in fields of personal interest. By allowing students to request topics and ask questions directly or via text message, teachers can increase interest and engagement throughout the session.
Nepris has teamed up with employers like AT&T to make it easy for teachers to virtually invite industry professionals into their classrooms. Company leaders and experts are bringing real-world relevance to curriculum topics, helping evaluate student projects and changing the way students explore the working world-and their potential future– from their classroom. The professionals not only reap the emotional rewards of mentoring, but also have a chance to mentally rejuvenate thanks to the enthusiasm and fresh perspectives of the students.
Teacher Sarah Parker and her class of juniors and seniors at Cleveland Heights High School connect with their AT&T employee guest instructor regularly. They ask her about internship opportunities and job requirements. According to Parker, this collaboration with AT&T has really excited the kids about their STEM classes and the possibilities of working for the tech company.
Teachers alone cannot reverse the growing trend of disengagement among students in the U.S. But, technology can bring the community into the classroom and give teachers a powerful tool to expose students to a world beyond the walls of school. Let’s give our children the opportunity to understand the why.
Sabari Reja is CEO of Nepris. Jason Leiker is AVP of community engagement at AT&T.