01/09/2013 10:18 am ET Updated Mar 11, 2013

Is It Time to Re-Invent Education Systems?

According to new research from the University of Western Ontario, approximately 40 percent of students who drop out of university do so because of what they learn about their own academic ability, based primarily on the grades they receive after arriving on campus.

Every generation is faced with challenges of educating the next. It's no secret that American education is facing some dubious challenges as we continue to watch our global standing decline. Widely thought to have some of the best higher education institutions in the world, we are facing increasing drop-out rates among university freshman, increasing derailments once accepted, increasing cost of university education, and an overall generation change called "extended adolescence."

There used to be a notion if a student made good grades, went to college, and even specialized in a specific field; they would have a chance to make a good living upon graduation. Well, today the game has changed. The drop-out rates among University Students is at an all time high, the unemployment rate among college graduates keeps climbing, and more and more young adults are ranked as not satisfied with their current vocational choice.

I work with high school students who most often have a goal of graduating from university, so I'm plagued with a simple question...Why?

Why are so many kids dropping out?
Why are so many young adults unsatisfied with their jobs?
Why are we loosing our educational standings against other countries?

In my own research and 20-year work with teenagers around the world, I've found a few answers families can begin to think about when approaching the university stage.

1. High School Students Are Burned Out

After 13 years of school, we noticed students in the west have been indoctrinated with performance-based education. The drive to achieve the best grade weighs heavily against their desire to find out what they are gifted to do in this world. We've found a high rate of drop outs at the university level can be directly correlated to students who take classes and ask themselves, "How is this ever going to help me achieve my life goals?" Especially when a student may or may not know what their life goals are.

This generation has the world at their fingertips, but for those who are being thrown into the pressures of performance at an earlier and earlier age, they are unable to explore, test, and find out what they want to 'be when they grow up.' I find more and more high school students who just need a break from the education world they are used to, so they can focus on what they want to do going forward.

2. Extended Adolescent Development

It was only 109 years ago with the writing of G. Stanley Hall's adolescence as a categorical age bracket in psychology that our culture has focused on the specific teenage stage of development. Before then, we lived in community and included all ages as the family raised the children. When we developed the word 'teenager' a vast array of programs began to emerge to take care of students going through the physical pubescent changes. (Even legally, people under 18 were defined as children according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child as late as 1989.)

However, 18-year-olds today are much different than 18-year-olds 100 years ago. A cultural phenomenon is emerging called "extended adolescence." We are witnessing a large demographic of students who are continuing child like behavior through their early 20s, denying the old way of thinking about development.

Thirty years ago, if a boy turned 18, a father would kick him out of the house to be on his own. Today, a student in their 20s is living at home, 'saving money for a place,' and all the while expressing their need for exploration, freedom, and weaning from their parents. The point is, if adolescence is extending, just think about the age at which our students are entering the university. It's getting younger and younger on the long chart of adolescent development.

3. Lack of Global and Experiential Education

Thomas Friedman wrote The World Is Flat about a new globalization taking over the job market. Our secondary schools are still in the business of lectures and homework instead of preparing our students to see the world for what it is. Today, a CPA can do exponentially more tax forms by outsourcing his work to people in other parts of the world. A Radiologist can read X-rays around the clock as he or she employs people in a different country or a different time zone. There are even companies who boast the sun never sets on their business because of multiple call centers.

We must be about teaching and training our students, at a younger and younger age how to deal with the way the world turns. It's a different environment than the one my grandfather grew up in, and for this to happen, our education system needs a re-boot.

A few years ago I had a crazy idea to introduce a "gap year" much like the rest of the civilized world. We know European students never graduate high school and go straight to University. The Chinese are beginning the trend, and the Australian students actually go on a 'walk about.'

Here in America, the idea of taking time away from structured education caused a fearful speculation as parents were worried about their kids wanting to enter the University after taking "time off," and rightfully so. We were seeing students gaining valuable exposure to the rest of the world but after their time away from school they were forfeiting their years of higher learning for immediate vocational goals.

We knew something had to be done.

We formed a program called The KIVU Gap Year. A year-long global exploration for students to see the world, expose themselves to a variety of potential disciplines, and develop a deeper sense of who they are and how they fit in the world. We knew instinctively students needed to see their community as no longer the street they live on, but rather; a larger global community provided by the newest developments in technological communication.

Today there are hundreds of programs to help students see the world. The KIVU Gap year students are using the program to see the world, intern with a variety of global facilities, and formulate their understanding for the need of university training. To date, we have had 100 percent of our graduates attend university level education, and several are receiving scholarships for their outstanding performance in their chosen field.

The investment parents can make by helping frame the world for their students is invaluable, and they are making an investment that can act as insurance to the best of class college experience in the classroom and beyond. We need to re-think how we set students up for university entry levels, and help equip them to be successful in a new world.