Thursday, March 26, 2009

Education in the 21st Century

Right at the end of the meeting in Bromsgrove, Mr Badman mentioned something about the problem of shaping education for the 21st century. Sharp as a tack, an autonomous home educator snapped back "Of course Home Education is the future of 21st century education." Mr Badman swerved deftly away from the implications of this with a laugh and a "Well, that's a whole other report".

Anyhow, it set me thinking: it really needn't be a whole other report, but if you insist!

Now that the government is obsessed with the question of the shape of 21st education, wouldn't it be a good time to suggest, deferential cough from the back row, "Hey sirs, we think we know the answer! We've been working on something for the last few decades. It works and we believe there are useful lessons to be drawn from home education, particularly the autonomous home education model."

So how could we apply that model to cater for all those children whose parents can't make a commitment to educate them personally?

Howse about this then:

You take your local school, gut it and start over.

You get the community involved in how to design a community learning centre.

You find out what people of all ages want to learn.

You provide the resources for them to do this which will probably include a wireless learning centre with video-conferencing, PCs and laptops, an art centre, a science lab, a photography room, a multiplex cinema showing anything from historical documentaries to Japanese film noir to Futurama, a theatre, a restaurant and a kitchen, a wall for murals, a field for organic and a field for GM, a garden, a zoo, a waterworks plant, a space to build sculptures, a space lab, a gym, a swimming pool, a trampoline and a football pitch.

You respond to project-based needs, sorting out apprenticeships and other forms of job training.

Then you let your learners loose with enough sensible people thrown in to offer tentative theories about how to proceed. Learners can come and go as they please. The distinction between those who learn in school and those who learn otherwise disappears. Education is no longer compulsory. You offer people genuinely attractive opportunities, and my bet is they will take them up.

You explain how a learner's skills can be applied to real world problems and again, my bet is you will find they take up the challenge.

You forget about broad and balanced education, though of course the learner may manage this if they so choose. Study after study is showing that we only get really good at something if we put in the hours of *focused* study. According to Gladwell in Outliers, you have to put in 10, 000 hours.

You stop fretting about exam results and instead let learners progress to doing something useful when it became patently clear that they had achieved a functional competence in a certain field. You don't shoe-horn learning into standards or set targets for achievements, as you accept that this is poor epistemology: you can never reliably assess learning, and you can't reliably predict where it will end up, and obviously, you don't want to constrain your learners to predictable ends since we need new creative solutions.

As someone familiar with thinking out the box once said: "We can't solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used to create them."

These community centres can hook up with one another to work on collaborative projects anywhere in the world. They stop competing with each other and instead can set out to solve big global problems.

Yep that's about right and that's my suggestion.


Firebird said...

The idea of giving anyone, let alone children, that much freedom scares the s**t out of the establishment.

It's a wonderful plan of course but I'm not going to hold my breath. Compulsory Education as got too much of a hold on the public imagination and there are too many vested interests in the current, learn what we tell you, social conditioning model. Pity, any country that took the plunge would be in a much better shape when the big energy crisis starts to bite in 10 years or so.

moley said...

Fantastic ideas (well mostly anyway - not sure abut field for GM!) but they assume that the ptb want educated citizens not schooled sheeple.

Sadly it just ain't so :(

Where would the wage slaves that fuel the economy and keep the ultra-rich in the style to which they have become accustomed come from if everyone thought for themselves?

The only failure they see in the 'education system' is that too many of the 'underclass' are not gaining the basic literacy, numeracy and work ethic they need to hold down some crappy, low wage job.

Anonymous said...

Am not sure about the zoo! But otherwise I do agree that this is entirely feasible. It could even start more gently. Teachers could become 'facilitators/sources of knowledge'. The premises could become like mini universities in part.
Or even...

My old subject again (!) it could be like the John Holt inspired primary school I attended years ago. We signed up for events and lessons as we wished (with a minimum number required but this could change), we could use the photography lab or science lab or a mini farm (very mini!) as we wished and so on. We chose our own exercises in English and marked them ourselves - started clubs for special interests. It wasn't so different from school, it was just more friendly and free. The 'teachers' had a ball and we didn't have too bad a time. This, as a beginning, wouldn't require radical changes. We did have structured sport, PE and form classes - but that could easily be dispensed with! Assemblies could become events such as those in the Sudbury school model. Parents could be more involved as they are in co-operative schools in the States for example, if they wished (of course this means enhanced disclosure i suppose in our current, vetting society!). Universities already exist for 18+ - why not younger?

Basically, most of what is needed has been done before. It is really not so much of a leap as that - it could interlink with home based education beautifully.

We don't need schools that discipline us into regimented behaviour so we can either work in factories, work unthinkingly or rule. That worked in the past when it was needed, but is now redundant. We need an education that genuinely prepares us for the future and for today.

Raquel said...

Myabe we need to imagine a world where compulsary education did not exist. What would it look like? I mean really look like. For starters we would have alot of children who felt like fish out of long would it take them to deschool and get used to the idea? Would they do as the pessimists predict and go around looting and mugging? Maybe for a while but then what? I think the *extinction of compulsary education* needs to be written up as a possible scenario, taking into account the good, ad and ugly which such an idea may entail!

Renegade Parent said...

I think that this argument - many common features of home education are starting to be seen as 21st century innovation in schools - is by far the most powerful one to convince the government.

I agree with your description of what schools *could* be. It's compelling that the US has innovative educators who are so much further along than us in this aspect. If you read Jim Knight's recent speech on BSF his understanding of 21st century education (we teach the same stuff with an interactive whiteboard and laptop, et voila) is embarrassing in comparison to what's bubbling over there.

The best way of tying this all up is to understand that actually, what the government needs most atm is to kickstart and grow a post-industrial, knowledge-based economy, to compete on a global scale. For this an entire workforce of people with 21st century skills, rather than wage slaves, is required. Lots of evidence - of their own making and from elsewhere - that shows this.

We should be repeating over and over again that promoting the primacy of the learner in a non-institutional enviornment is the only way to do this effectively - not authoritarian, bureaucratic schooling, broad national curricula and standardisation etc. Again, there's lots of current research to support this. Let's shift the focus to where the problem really is.


Carlotta said...

Thanks of constructive ideas.

Anonymous said...

Re: Raquel's comment

Aren't children suddenly liberated of school more likely to watch unlimited tv, play games etc? That is if they are allowed to do as they wish. I suppose the looting and mugging would only occur if they didn't have better alternatives.


Anonymous said...

and thanks 'renegade' for your link to US ideas. They look brilliant.

It's good to know that things such as this discussed by Sean Griffin are already happening:

"Although this conference focused on dropout issues and challenges, really we were talking about the need to transform our schools into learning centers which can better meet the needs of ALL the diverse and unique learners in our society. The two books I’ve recently read which are influencing my thinking along these lines strongly today are Sir Ken Robinson’s book “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” and Christensen, Horn and Johnson’s book “Disrupting Class.”


Anonymous said...

I love this sort of idea. However I think something very fundamental must be done with families if this is going to work. The agenda of taking children out of families and institutionalising them all day for as long as possible and then filling weekends with extra-curricula activity.
For children to have more (or any) autonomy on how they learn and when they will need parents who are there and who have their proper authority in the home.
My experience of the school gate suggests this aint the case. Too many mums didn't want to be around their children; saw school as free babysitting and hated the holidays.
Then there's the Govt policy of forcing mothers into work...

If GB really wants to see an excellent education for the 21st Century he needs to have a look at the whole thing-not just how schools work and/or how to make EHE families FIT something.

Parents need to be allowed to parent again. From there children will feel safe and loved and want to learn,
And from there open school-cum-all age Unis will work really well.

I like the idea of growing organic and GM-great way to compare and see what really works.
And keeping animals: chickens, lambs, bees, goats, and so on.
What about a little onsite theatre?
A bus stop with buses (with wheelchair access) that would take loads of children and families to local science parks or other places to visit.
Rooms with sewing machines and people who know how to use them..
OOOh there's so many things.
Are you going to suggest any of this to GB Carlotta?

BTW I also wanted to ask you what the Blackwell Court HE group is like. What's the set up?

Lanna said...

Brilliant post. :)

Further to the comment on Raquel's comment..

I remember reading a bit on the Summerhill website about how students adjust to the almost complete freedom they have when they arrive. Apparently they have their own sort of 'unschooling' experience, go a bit crazy or lazy for a bit, but eventually they find niches and settle in. I see no reason why, particularly with the support of teachers *and* parents, students switched to autodidactic learning centers wouldn't fare even better.

I find the notion completely exciting. If enough people whisper it into the wind and communities start trying it out and having successes that bolster confidence, I have to believe it would spread like wildfire.

Jemmo said...

Dammit! Stop being so interesting! It's gone 3am and I should really be in bed!

Firebird: giving children that much freedom scares the bejesus out of 99% of the public, not just the 'establishment'!

Moley: The schooled 'sheepies' idea was appropriate in the late 19th/early 20th century where a huge workforce was required to do mundane, repetitive work in a manufacturing-based economy. Now that we have effectively no manufacturing in this country, keeping the populous uneducated, illiterate and unable to think for themselves is no longer relevant. Of course it makes life easier for the 'Powers That Be' but I feel it is laziness, fear of change and habit which has kept the schools system in this state, not actual intent to make a nation of sheep.

"Where would the wage slaves that fuel the economy and keep the ultra-rich in the style to which they have become accustomed come from if everyone thought for themselves?"

But the economy is broken in a huge, fundamental way and it won't be fixed. It will have to change. They know this and also know that such change will be turbulent - hence the anti-civil liberties laws that have been introduced. No one knows what the outcome of all this will be, but it almost certainly won't be what we've known in our lifetimes. Even the IMF is distancing itself from globalization and free market economies! Twenty countries have just agreed to crack down on tax havens and the shadow economy! This would have been ridiculous ideas less than a year ago. Anything can happen, so in a way, we wage slaves and credit slaves are at the best possible point to change things to our benefit, aren't we? (if we can avoid having our freedom completely wiped out for long enough to have some influence!)

RenegadeParent talks about a "post-industrial, knowledge-based economy, to compete on a global scale..." and that is completely the sort of thinking we need. Brilliant!

All: This was John Holt's dream, which he wrote about decades ago! Funny that we keep coming back to it. It hasn't much hope of happening though. The fear of change, social upset in the transition (de-schooling) phase, laziness, habit, etc etc being insurmountable. The ptb are the products of a school system which does not let them think outside of memes like the innate badness of children, people's unwillingness to learn, the resultant necessity of compulsion, etc.

mum6kids: "something very fundamental must be done with families if this is going to work"

Absolutely. The school system at this moment is mainly acting as childcare so that as many adults as possible can work for as much of their lives as they can. In the current economic situation, this is plainly nonsense. We will likely have 4 million unemployed in the UK by the end of the year. The whole banking system that props up the businesses that need an ever-available workforce and ever-earning consumers to make them money is inevitably crumbling away, whatever the G20 reckon they are doing to fix it. Now, more than at any time for the last 50 years, we do not need to make it easier for people to leave their families and go to work; we need to provide more incentives for people to stay at home and strengthen their families.

GM and organic crops can't co-exist by the way. Eventually they all turn into GM. This is part of the problem!

Right, enough, I'm going to bed!

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