By Michael Ormsby
Why do only 2% of the 39 million Americans without a high school education attempt to get a GED® diploma each year? What exactly is expected on the GED tests, and why do so many people fail? What does passing the GED test take? Why is the adult basic education infrastructure failing to educate the undereducated in this country?
The primary thing the GED test measures is thinking skill: the test taker’s ability to comprehend, apply, synthesize, evaluate, and analyze. Most adult basic education programs follow the same curriculum used in high school, focusing on teaching facts and skills instead of teaching analysis, evaluation, and other thinking skills. But adult literacy is more about thinking than about disconnected facts. Not only is a high-school style curriculum not relevant to the skills people need in the workplace and life, but it is taught in the traditional factory school approach. It is failing, just as the high school system is failing. The students who succeed with this approach have already passed high school. Students who dropped out of high school need a different approach to adult basic education.
The report The Silent Epidemic describes a study supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which found that most high school dropouts leave school because they found school uninteresting, boring, and not relevant to their lives. The majority of these students had grade point averages of C or better and could have succeeded in school had they continued. To reach these students with adult basic education, more than a traditional classroom approach… the approach they found uninteresting, boring, and irrelevant… is needed.
Adult basic education faces challenges beyond students’ disillusionment with traditional classrooms. Adult basic education GED programs, in replicating a high school curriculum, replicate high school’s shortfalls, as well. Students who were unable to learn in high school can be lost in the GED classroom. GED students come to adult basic education with varying abilities and skill levels, and the traditional high school curriculum expects students to be prepared for whatever level of material is being taught that day in class. The same material is taught to all students, whether they are prepared for it or not. Many GED students have gaps in their education that need to be addressed, gaps that they are embarrassed by or even may not realize.
The GED test has evolved into a sophisticated set of five exams that require the candidate to demonstrate a high level of understanding and skill in mathematics, science, social studies, reading, and writing. The GED tests have gleaned the most important skills from the high school curriculum, those that will most help an individual find success in today’s job market: critical thinking, evaluation, making inferences, and problem solving.
The solution for the failing adult basic education system is to put the educational choice into the hands of the learner themselves. Effective online educational solutions very often better meet the needs of the adult learner by allowing them to take control of their own learning and avoid the traditional classroom environment altogether. Online distance learning GED programs offer individuated instruction by their very nature; each student chooses his or her study program and study pace, so students can focus on filling the gaps in their own educations in a non-threatening, self-controlled environment.
Online GED programs allow the student to learn at his or her own speed, and more importantly to be able to go back and relearn forgotten basic numeracy and literacy skills. The best GED online study programs are designed to replicate traditional apprentice training, where the material is carefully customized to the needs of the learner and made relevant to the learner’s life. Effective online GED programs can have a higher success rate than traditional adult basic education classrooms, by providing a customized, personalized “teacher” working directly with each student.