Today we have a very special post from one of a colleague and compadre, Nicola Wright.
Nicola is a student of Internet Communications with Curtin University, a professional blogger, mother, and homeschooler! Where she finds the time to write for herself is a mystery to me. I secretly suspect some kind of super-power, but shhhh!
This is a piece about the future of our schools, and whether or not we have created a world that no longer requires bricks-and-mortar learning institutions.
Are schools obsolete? The future of education in the information age
In the age of the Internet when we can find anything we want to know, when we want to know it, there is a growing question about the relevance of traditional learning models. The idea of teachers and school curating what we need to learn is fast becoming irrelevant. Why do we need to outsource to ‘educators’ decisions about what information is best for us know when we can access information about any topic at few clicks of a keyboard?
Education researchers are now making predictions about the future of education that sees it heading in the direction of self-organised learning (Richardson, 2012; Wheeler, 2013). It could well be that in ten years time we will see an end to testing and comparing students and ranking schools in order of those who are highest performing. What do those test scores mean anyway? No more than that a student has learned something for sole purpose of passing a test, which more that likely will soon be forgotten. Unless a student is engaged with the material they are presented it is unlikely that that information will stay with them long term. Just look at the Chinese education system for starters. They rank highly in PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores but the students are pushed very hard; in high school they study 12.5 hours a day and identify as feeling ‘highly stressed’ (Hesketh et al. 2010). Yong Zhao (2009), a Chinese education expert describes this process as producing gaofen dineng which translates as ‘high scores but low ability’ brought about by students having no time to be creative or follow their own interest with ‘an absence of self-discipline and imagination, loss of curiosity and passion for learning’ (Jiang Xueqin, 2010).
Rather than children having to adapt to a ‘one size fits all’ model of education with pressure to perform well in standardized testing, imagine an education where ‘radical personalization’ is the norm. Every child would have access to resources, both online and off, using hands on materials or within a one-on-one mentorship situation. Peter Gray in his book Free to Learn (2013) outlines his dream for non-coercive education in the future. In it he visualises publicly funded community centres where children (and adults) can come together to access resources and teachers on subjects that interest them. Members could be rostered on for cleaning and administration duties thereby providing opportunities for healthy multi-aged socialisation and development of stewardship and civic responsibility. Together with access to free online courses (think open universities and MOOCs) students would have access to all the tools they need to pursue their interests and career goals. Once they have developed the important skill of being able to assess the quality of information online (what’s the source?) the world is their oyster.
Schools of today are pretty much the same as they were 150 years ago. In the information age it’s now time to rethink the paradigm of top-down pedagogical structures and embrace the affordances of our digital present where information is in abundance and easily accessed. Real learning happens everywhere not just within the four walls of the school building. That’s SO old-school.
“I never teach my students. I only provide them with the conditions in which they can learn.”
– Albert Einstein
A Glimpse into the Future of Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.knowledgeworks.org/sites/default/files/A-Glimpse-into-the-Future-of-Learning-Infographic_0.pdf
Gray, P. (2013). Free to learn: why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life. New York: Basic Books.
Hesketh, T., Zhen, Y., Lu, L., Dong, Z. X., Jun, Y. X., & Xing, Z. W. (2010). Stress and psychosomatic symptoms in Chinese school children: cross-sectional survey. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 95(2), 136–140. doi:10.1136/adc.2009.171660
Richardson, W. (2012). Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere (Kindle Single). TED Conferences.
Wheeler, S. (2013, May 5). Self Organised Learning Spaces. Learning with “e”s. Retrieved from http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/self-organised-learning-spaces.html
Xueqin, J. (2010, December 8). The Test Chinese Schools Still Fail. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703766704576008692493038646.html
Yong Zhao (2009), Catching up or leading the way: America education in the age of globalization.