There is so much research on education, it’s difficult to think we will ever have the right answer. And maybe that is the answer, that there isn’t a RIGHT answer.
For one, I don’t believe there is a magic formula to achieve universal learning. People are so different, with strengths and weaknesses, now evaluated by 24 different characteristics, with at least three different learning styles, etc. But to know where we are going in education, we have to at least know where we are now.
Right now the education system outlines specific goals for each age group, independent of ability, socioeconomic background, support from home, etc. We then test students on these limited goals which may evaluate knowledge more than intelligence or understanding.
I’m reading How Children Succeed… by Paul Tough, but you can get a snapshot of the book from this New York Times article. One underlying idea, briefly mentioned, is not that the school environment is not only a place of instruction. Rather, it’s a place for therapy, where children are improving the obstacles that prevent them from achieving their goals. Okay, this idea is also forming from a TED Talk discussion I just listened to on the TED Radio Hour by NPR. Specifically the talk by Rita Pierson who shows how human relationships are mechanisms for learning. That’s why some teachers are better for students to learn from, because they are able to develop such strong relationships with the students. Although it wasn’t discussed in depth, she gives an example of the relationships which address the child’s individual need which allows the child to achieve more in their education. I think we all sort of knew this, and we know of many great teachers accomplishing this with their students, such as Mr. Foteah who is also a fantastic blogger.
So we go to school for therapy, to address the issues and behavioral problems that interfere with learning. Now thinking about the future of learning…
In that same collection of TED Talks from the NPR radio show, listen to the bits by Suguta Mitra. He did some experiments which show how children can teach themselves difficult material. Even very poor children who have no idea what a computer is or how to speak English. If you have heard about the Khan Academy, and if you have ever taken an online course, we can see a shift coming in the education system. People choose what they want to learn, and how they want to learn it. Salman Khan talks about how his online courses allow students to prep for classroom lectures in advance and teachers now use class time to help students master the skill. This will allow students to learn at their own pace, and hopefully as the students identifies their best method of learning, they can become more efficient in the learning process. So the teachers role as an instructor might be reduced even further. There will be more time to deal with the “therapy work” for students, to help them stay motivated, and help them develop “character” (discussed in the book How Children Succeed).
Not that this is an easy task. How does one person identify the specific needs of 120 students, and find positive ways to address each of those issues? But in a way, it’s part of their task now, along with the instructive tasks.
What if education can be a “learn at your own pace” with the instructor meant to get to know you to help you identify challenges and develop methods of overcoming them. And to help evaluate your learning achievement. Is that the system we can expect?