in Education

Questions about the future of education

When anyone asks me, students included, why on earth I became a teacher, I tell them the truth. “I became a teacher to change the system.” That’s why I’m always interested in discussing and debating the future of education. This morning, Dave Stacey, someone I am proud to call a fellow History teacher and UK edublogger, asked some questions:

Why is it that all our pupils do the same courses at the same time, with people who happen to have been born between the same two Septembers as them?

Why is it that school starts and finishes at the same time for everyone?

Why is it that lessons last an hour, and then we all move round again?

Why is it that for all our talk about understanding multiple intelligences, 95% of learning and assessment is written?

Why is it that we try to manage the complicated business of learning by increasing the number of ever tiny boxes to be ticked?

Why is it that at the end of the day, it’s the teachers who leave exhausted?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘because we’ve always done it like that’ then you’re missing the point

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘that’s how it works’ then you’re not seeing the bigger picture.

We (you and me) are failing thousands of people every single day we perpetuate the myth that is the education system.

I don’t have the answers. But I have some questions, and I think that’s a good start.

Now I don’t think young David really wants answer such as “in the 19th century when the education system was set up, children were needed to gather in the harvest, therefore the school year began when after this had been done.” No no no. :p

What Dave’s getting at is that sometimes you’ve got to completely redesign a system from the ground up. It’s at this point I’d like you very much to watch two videos:

If you haven’t got time to watch the above (you really should find some!) or don’t understand what I’m trying to get at, let me make it explicit: we’re in a period of immense social change (1st video clip). This means we’re re-writing the rules as we go along. Unfortunately, to get to where we need to be, evolution isn’t an option (2nd video clip) – we need to start over to make things better.

I’m not sure I agree with Dave’s implication that learners should leave school ‘exhausted’, but I’m with him all the way on finding it bizarre that in an increasingly multimedia society, we insist on assessments to be done in a written format. We need to be responding to the needs of 21st century learners who will live in a 21st century global society. Miguel Guhlin linked to the following diagram by Scott McLeod today. It’s worth looking at these things, especially when in the throes of the daily grind:

Dave writes, “We (you and me) are failing thousands of people every single day we perpetuate the myth that is the education system.” I agree. And it’s the reason, I believe, why many teachers who could and should change the education system end up as consultants or leave the profession due to sheer frustration. I, for one, am not ‘walking the walk’ as I should be. Thanks for the wake-up call, Dave! :)

(image credit: “Studying for class” by jakebouma @ Flickr)

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  • Andy B

    Dave has posted some very thought provoking questions. I got particularly animated about the first one which, if resolved, could possibly cure much of the evils in schools today.

    However we are in the business of educating children. Now that I have my own children I realise that they need structure and routine. They also benefit from and prefer the company of their peers. Do you let your child choose the time he sleeps, the time he eats, do take him to playgroup with other babies his age or prefer he mixes with teenagers to accelerate his learning?

    The only answer I can arrive at for most of Dave’s questions is…”because are students are children”.

  • http://karynromeis.blogspot.com Karyn Romeis

    Excellent questions, and here are my reflections on them:
    Q1 Why indeed! It isn’t the case everywhere in the world, and I am two years younger than my husband, although we finished school in the same year.

    Q2 The alternative to this would be either a completely redesigned system with a rewrite of a teacher’s job description (don’t hold your breath!), or a logistical nightmare

    Q3 I have no problem with the moving about bit – it gives people a bit of a break and a breather, but the one hour bit I guess takes us back to my response to Q2 above

    Q4 This one gets me, too! I guess they haven’t figured out ways to mark, capture or quantify assessments conducted in other ways. Perhaps they haven’t even figured out what the “other ways” might be

    Q5 Political correctness and health and safety gone mad together? Ridiculous!

    Q6 Now here I feel I’m on solid ground: because they should! Teaching is hard work… if you do it right (the same can be said of parenting). I’ll bet my grade 8 history teacher who read the text book to us in every lesson was not exhausted at the end of the day. If you invest yourself in your job and give it all you’ve got, you WILL be exhausted at the end of it. I find that sense of exhaustion highly gratifying – I know that I’ve given it my best shot.

  • http://www.soulycatholichs.blogspot.com Charlie Roy

    Good questions:
    people who happen to have been born between the same two Septembers as them?

    # 1 Why is it that school starts and finishes at the same time for everyone?
    Part of the education = day care culture

    #2 Why is it that lessons last an hour, and then we all move round again?
    Carnegie units and a carry over from the industrial age.

    #3 Why is it that for all our talk about understanding multiple intelligences, 95% of learning and assessment is written?
    Too many teachers equate display of knowledge with written work.

    #4 Why is it that we try to manage the complicated business of learning by increasing the number of ever tiny boxes to be ticked?

    #5 Why is it that at the end of the day, it’s the teachers who leave exhausted?
    Because of the traditional focus on teaching as opposed to learning.

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  • Jonathan Gower

    I agree. These are good questions. The first video is even better – I think. The ‘Where’s the mouse?’ question surely could be applied to a lot of school lessons. And I don’t think it’s enough to say, “These are children…” and therefore there’s no need. We need to equip children to make the choices that we are guessing will be open to them as adults.

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