What is the future of education… The concept of a bunch of kids sitting in a classroom, “receiving” education is still the prevalent one today, there are some attempts to mix it up, but this format is the “old faithful” or the one that has largely been the format of most education for 100s if not 1000s of years.
However, the technological status of those societies could not have dreamed of what exists today. We are living in a completely new world, with technology providing unique opportunities and problems. Most children have a smart phone in their pockets and yet most schools don’t let them use them, the saem schools who don’t have a computer available for every child. We should not let the fear of children “being on their phones” all the time be the reason we fail to use this valuable resource, surely phone manufacturers could easily create a school mode? But there’s more, much more.
These days, if you want to know something, you can just google it. I can use Coursera, Google translate, Khan Academy, TedX or Youtube video and so on. Self-directed study is the norm in the real world, so surely we should be teaching technological skills, analytical skills, research skills and similar skills so children can learn how to self-direct their study well and take that with them to adulthood. If we’re mainly teaching skills, then what does it matter what they learn? Do you remember everything you learnt at school? You could learn what you remember in a year. You also probably don’t remember learning the skills you use every day either, but that’s what you remember the most. There should be an end to subjects and forcing children to learn things they are either not ready for (most of the time), not interested in (some of the time, depending on teaching quality) or not able to learn (the rarest of the three).
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Yes, we should direct, we could enforce some basic courses, in the early years, we can teach the basic stuff but we don’t have to teach algebra to a child who isn’t interested in it and we don’t have to waste so much time and energy lost trying to force them to learn it. They can get interested and teach themselves (or use adult education opportunities) later in life, but a good format of teaching will give the child everything they need regardless of the topic studied so they can learn another topic on their own later in life and keep them turned on to learning. It also emphasises the lifelong nature of education, it’s not just tests and then freedom.
Real knowledge is wide and there is more knowledge today than a month ago, a decade, a century, it just grows and grows. Knowledge gets out of date fast these days it seems, we must stay up to date. The idea that a teacher can know all of this information is egotistical. Yes, some can do it, but it underpins the idea of teachers as indoctrinators, lecturers, as the stars of the show. Today, we are more, or should be more, facilitators and doctors of the mind, experts of learning. And more and more we are needed for pastoral support. The reality being that we are overworked, multitasking jugglers and number crunchers is more apt. We can’t do it all and the current abandonment of the profession (I have had so many agencies in touch looking for teachers for schools, it’s ridiculous) and low satisfaction (I know so many ex-teachers or soon to be ex-teachers, that’s also ridiculous) are testament to the fact that teachers are being overburdened by politics and people who don’t understand the profession or who are thwarting its development.
We’re also being overburdened by this inability to move into the 21st century. Why can’t we have children who self-direct all their study, who research, collate, learn and share and who are directed by teachers focused on their welfare, wider lives, thinking skills, research skills, analytical skills and so on? You must be able to see the benefits? It is a better use of a teacher too and means that more people could handle being a teacher. They don’t have to be good at controlling a class of kids or good at a particular subject. Time can be made for character forming at playtime, sport and lots of other events, and group, paired or peer work can still be arranged. Time can be made for anything you need, but changing to a school wide self-directed study and one to one tuition needs to be done, the details can be worked out.
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It’s much more focused on the student and it aims at creating a perfect learner, who can vary everything to their own desires. It also rids the teacher of the extra burden of differentiation, which is normally ineffective or absent anyway. Other tasks would change too and the whole persona of the teacher would change, or rather go back to what it’s supposed to be. For example, teachers are around monitoring and helping all the time, in a hall type library structure perhaps, and students meet with mentors for an hour a day in off rooms, but it’s all focussed on skills and the student using and perfecting those skills on a chosen body of knowledge rather than worrying about the subject. Teachers have to become good all-rounders and good relationship builders, it reduces the demands of the teacher so they can focus on the student.
But it also deals with the biggest issue with education. If a kid is not interested in the subject, or for another reason is not engaged, that one kid can disrupt the whole lesson. If it’s a few kids, it’s worse and it goes up in intensity according to membership. Also, kids in a classroom? 30? Really? To control all those egos teachers have to either be terrifying or robots or worse, it also says teaching is about who can control the class the best, which it is not. The biggest reason kids don’t learn isn’t always about the teacher, the school, what happened that morning. But it is always a lack of engagement in the subject (which can happen for lots of reasons).
Teaching is about shaping minds and characters, about generating interest, wonder but the student will always be more invested in themselves when they make their own choices. They will do better if they own their learning and can avoid distractions. Teaching is also the key to harmonizing and perfecting society, if we made a generation of excellent learners, and we should be putting all our resources into it and doing whatever it takes to make it a better system. For example, I’m sick of seeing kids without basic equipment or access to experiences because of budgets. There is more than enough money available out there, it’s more about a reordering of priorities. I’m also sick of seeing kids who are just disengaged crashing through school to a unsatisfactory end. I’m fed up with hearing “but he’s great on his own” or “I can really get through to her when I explain it to her” and yet we don’t have a system structured around those truths.
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There’s a reason why schools with smaller classes are better and more attractive to parents. I’m suggesting hard wired one to one tuition with multiple opportunities for interacting with their peers, utilising modern technology and new ideas about curriculums. How attractive is that?! We just don’t have to keep following the tired, same and ineffective model we use. There’s online learning platforms, social media, robots and AI, online knowledge platforms and so on, all of which can be used to end the need for marking, homework checking, behaviour management, truancy, unattainment and so on.
I have a dream of a kid moving at their own pace, pass at their own pace, responsibility for their learning firmly on their shoulders, encouraged to do their best, attention being given to all the aspects of his or her formation, but especially their learning with them discovering what they want to learn, sharpening and acquiring skills along the way, knowing how to use the knowledge on the internet, how to filter, critically analyse, how to judge bias and so on. How to use technology too. This fits better with what we are moving towards anyway and yet the current lack of these skills is driving us to an insanity.
I hope for a future where we know what is true and what is false, where we are all intelligent and varied in our knowledge. Towards a future where we can all be experts of lots of different things, more certain and truly independent. It ends this insanity of doing the same thing over and over, that doesn’t really work. Yes, there will be teachers who think everything is fine the way it is, but this difference is part of the problem, if it was really ok, everyone would say it was ok. But they don’t. There’s a lot of voices of dissent. We need a change. We need to take the profession back from politics and people who are not experts in education. We also need to be brave. To make a new education system. One, awake to the context we are in. That’s the future of education. As Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think…Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”