Student Voice: The world needs more problem-solvers. How will our public schools deliver?

31-Aug-2020

When I found out that my traditional graduation ceremony was canceled, I felt a lot of emotions: confusion, anger, and sadness, to name a few. I spent a lot of my days during the spring wallowing in self-pity, wondering why this all had to happen during the peak of my high school life.

​By Jacob Nakasone

I’m a recent Mililani High School graduate, and despite these uncertain times, I’m a very hopeful person. It wasn’t always like that though. When I found out that my traditional graduation ceremony was canceled, I felt a lot of emotions: confusion, anger, and sadness, to name a few. I spent a lot of my days during the spring wallowing in self-pity, wondering why this all had to happen during the peak of my high school life.

But slowly over time, I got over it. I applied for a summer internship with HIDOE, which I initially thought would just be for the money. However, after finishing my six-week internship, I can confidently say that this pandemic and internship have given me a newfound hope that my generation is ready to tackle the biggest challenges this world faces. Here’s why.

I want to begin by giving credit to a guest speaker who I had the pleasure of listening to during HIDOE’s 2020 Educational Leadership Institute conference that I attended (virtually). His name is Jaime Casap, and he’s contributed massively to digital education during his time with Google, most recently as chief education evangelist for the tech giant. One of the things he repeated over and over was that we shouldn’t ask students, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Instead we should be asking them, “What problem do you want to solve?” 

I was always focused on the informational side of education; things like how to solve math formulas, how governments work, etc. The way our education system is built, both in K-12 and college, breeds this mindset. We find what job field we’re good at, build the skills needed for the field, then get a job. But where in education do soft skills fall?

Reflecting back on my K-12 education, there weren't classes or activities specifically designed to develop soft skills and help me grow as a person. I believe soft skills make people stand out from the crowd — the ability to connect with others, to form relationships, to handle the unexpected problems that come your way. That’s what employers look for, and from there, the opportunities are endless.

From my perspective, students are typically left to develop soft skills through life experiences. But if schools were to actively incorporate soft skills development into education, I think it would help lay a better foundation for college and beyond.

Some of my friends who’ve finished their freshman year in college told me they felt high school didn’t “prepare them enough” for college. Granted, these same friends graduated from high school with 3.6 GPAs and higher. So if people like this say school didn’t prepare them enough, where are the shortcomings? Again, it’s the lack of soft skills formation.

I also believe that the phrase “What do you want to be when you grow up?” becomes more and more outdated with each passing year. Asking students to choose a single career goal to strive for is already setting them up for failure. Why are we aiming so low? We should encourage students to become inventors, big thinkers, and creators. Like Mr. Casap said, we need to inspire students to solve the greater problems our world faces.

Students should be striving for “life readiness” rather than just college and career readiness. The actions of a person are limited to what the mind thinks. If a person thinks they can solve, for example, climate change, I would bet on that person becoming so dedicated to their mission that they’ll find a solution, no matter how big or small.

I’m not suggesting we should stop encouraging students to pursue a career. Careers in teaching, medicine, business, law, politics, and many other fields are essential to society. But maybe outside of work, that person will advocate for civil rights. Or discover a new medical technique, or do beach cleanups every weekend, or create solutions for plastic waste disposal. We all share one world, one 'āina, and I believe that if we teach students to contribute back to their community, the world will be a better place.

As for me, I don’t yet know what problem I want to solve. I can’t even decide on my college major. But what I do know is that my generation will be the one to step up and create solutions to form a better future.

My generation is the post 9/11 generation, the Great Recession children, the climate change generation, the gun violence and school shooting generation, the police brutality and Black Lives Matter protesters. And now we are the generation who graduated during a worldwide pandemic. We’re first-hand witnessing the chaos and turmoil America faces in a fight amongst its own people. We are no longer high school teenagers. We are anxious young adults going into a world that is extremely divided. But despite all this, our generation is unlike any other. We are more racially and culturally diverse than ever before, we have more information at our hands than any other generation, and we are determined to solve the problems the generations before us could not.

But this path to change and success begins with education. People often complain that a bureaucratic system makes education hard to change. The time is now to stand up as individuals and create change, the kind of change that future generations need to be better prepared for the society they will soon enter.

What problem do you want to solve?


Jacob Nakasone is a 2020 graduate of Mililani High School, where he was active in soccer, newswriting, and various clubs. He interned with HIDOE's Communications Branch over the summer and is attending Seattle University.

Contact Information

Communications Branch

Phone: (808) 784-6200

Email: doeinfo@k12.hi.us

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