Learning for 2020

My journey to understand what life will be in year 2020 and how we should prepare our next generation to cope with life at 2020.

Location: Melbourne, Australia

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Our world is changing, our schools are failing,....

Of every 100 ninth-graders, only 68 graduate high school on time and only 18 make it through college on time, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Once in college, one in four students at four-year universities must take at least one remedial course to master what they should have learned in high school, government figures show.

After denoting US$700 Million from his/his wife's foundation, Bill Gates commented,

America's high schools are obsolete. By obsolete, I don't just mean that they're broken, flawed or underfunded, though a case could be made for every one of those points. By obsolete, I mean our high schools _ even when they're working as designed _ cannot teach all our students what they need to know today.

[from Governors Work to Improve H.S. Education]

OK, that may be America.

Are you sure? I think it is a problem much more fundamental!

School, as it is known today, is the construct of the industrial age. Production line is the driving factor. We needed replaceable workers so that production line did not need to stop because of absence of anyone along the production line. The jobs were repetitive and uninteresting. The education system needed to produce obedient citizens who could be told to do a job without questioning. Only the elite needs a real education. In order to ensure that only a small group of people can be educated (hence be the elite), the school system was a filtering system. Only a single digit percentage of the population will get a degree, even fewer for higher qualifications. Yet, these programs were still designed to serve the industrial age.

Spady (1999) states that society
fail(s) to recognize that today's schools are the cumulative result of centuries of extremely limited thinking about the nature of learners and learning; about their aptitudes and potential for continuous, lifelong growth and development; about how to organize learning opportunities; and about the pedagogies and processes that promote learning success.

He uses "the metaphor of an iceberg to describe the layer upon layer of outdated thinking and practice that form the enormous inertia" against change. The four layers are summarized as:

Feudal-Age Agenda - the education system is viewed as an overt and pervasive mechanism for sorting, labeling, and selecting students for educational, social, and economic futures. This is exemplified by the elaborate system of educational credentials based on students' demonstrated academic achievements. and the education system acts as a societal gatekeeper.

Agrarian-Age Calendar - everything is defined by how much time it's supposed to last: student eligibility for learning, courses, grade levels, curriculum structures, people's roles within the system, employment contracts, credit systems, class schedules, attendance requirements, "promotion," and more. The system is time-based and opportunity to learn is defined by, and limited to, the blocks of time that are determined by the clock, schedule, and calendar.

Industrial-Age Delivery System - time-defined organizational structure is reinforced by "delivery" of curriculum, which unquestioningly uses the assembly line process of industrial-age factories as the guiding template. Specific things are assumed to have to be learned for a specific amount of time from specific books, by students who are of a specific age and assigned to specific classrooms and teachers. All of this must proceed at a uniform pace. Any student whose learning level, learning rate, or learning style doesn't match this uniform unfolding of the curriculum becomes a problem for the system. Note that this assembly-line process limits learning of critical skills, knowledge and curriculum to specific weeks, or even days. If the student misses the stuff "covered" on a specific date, he or she may never "get" it again.

Bureaucratic-Age Culture - based on Peters and Waterman (1982)'s thesis that organizations define "themselves around roles rather than goals, procedures rather than outcomes, precedent rather than future challenges, teaching rather than learning, programs rather than achievement, time rather than results, and curriculum rather than performance". In short, the focus of bureaucracies on means is "tight", while their attention to ends is "loose".

Carol Twigg [1994] also looked at the issues of preparing citizens for the information age using the 6W's. In what students need to learn, Twigg identified that "driven by the information explosion…viewing a college education as mastery of a body of knowledge …. is becoming outmoded." She quoted that the Big Six accounting firms "have declared that no one can master the content of their discipline in an undergraduate education".

There are dramatic changes in who is learning too. Undergraduates are commencing their study at an older age, many with full-time or part-time jobs as shown by the statistics quoted in the next section. This is also related to when students learn. For instance, Twigg suggested that in US, 75% of the work force will need retraining by year 2000 as old jobs disappear and new ones emerge due to the global economy. Students need flexible learning arrangements. The traditional full-time learning model will fail to serve the needs of such students. On the where students learn, these working adult students would need flexibility and would like to learn from home as well as work place. Twigg suggested that new tools will need to be available while students learn. Finally, as we know more about how people learn, more changes in the pedagogical functions of higher education institutions will be needed.

An education system must take into account these changing needs of the learners:

  • accommodate students' needs in respect of pace, time, place and duration

  • provide for a range of ability and different learning preferences of students

  • greater autonomy and accountability, so that learning responsibilities reside with the learners but continuous assessment of their performance enables just in time help when problems are detected

  • learning as a holistic process where digital technologies are integrated into a well-designed curriculum that recognises the role of social interaction in the complete learning process.

The next generation is also fundamentally different from us. They are born digital. They have different learning style.

"Why the current education system (at least for the developed countries) fails" is not the question we should be asking. The real question should be

What should the education system for our kids be?


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