Education is broken but we can fix it
We are not all white collars – we need qualified artisans
Throughout my entire education experience I was told that if I was failing I would have to fall back onto blue collar jobs. As a teenager, I secretly wanted to become a mechanician but studied mathematics and sciences because these were the subjects promoted in our society. The biggest fear would have been to fail at them and to have to fall back on manual labor. Don’t get me wrong, I love initiatives pushing people to code – https://code.org, but when did we forget that we need artisans, farmers, service industry workers…
Couldn’t we re-organize education to discover talent within each individual? Not only based on results but on a connection to the inner force of the child. Couldn’t we add an angle of personal development for the education personnel? It doesn’t make sense to me that already troubled teenagers are pushed into following someone else’s beliefs and forced into a profession that wouldn’t be a fit. Couldn’t we take a pause at certain stages of the child’s development and take the time to understand the core values of the person before driving them towards a career of our interest?
Shall we convert subjects into topics – build a red line across subjects
Move away from subjects
I never understood the lack on continuity between subjects. I could go from History of the French Revolution from 10am to 11am, to the contemporary writers in French Literature and then directing a mouse in Biology. I invite my employees to create distraction-free working time where then they can get into the zone for 90 minutes to get something done. It has proven to cause a great deal of efficiency. I personally cannot multitask, I have to break down my daily tasks into a stream consistent flow around the same topic. But we do the exact opposite when it comes to teaching.
Without changing the amount of information that is required during the learning cycle, could we move away from subjects and create a relationship between classes to teach around themes/topics? I would look forward to the day we receive a yearly agenda of topics in advance – September to Mid-October “French Revolution – Mid-October to November “Industrial Revolution”. And every courses would be related to the topic: imagine, during the course of “Industrial Revolution”, learning the discovery of Michael Faraday or John Dalton in physics & chemistry while learning the historical and geographical implications of that revolution across Europe and US (rails and road development). Furthermore, you could study Victor Hugo or Honore de Balzac in literature while learning about the social effects on standards of living, population increase in socio-economics.
I believe we could create a contextual learning environment around topics where each subject could align itself and create a more immersive narrative.
Reimagine classroom structures
Following a similar disruptive approach as moving away from subjects towards learning topics, is the current classroom the most efficient learning environment? Back in my high school years, I remember the classroom to be full of 35 to 40 students. Most classes were 60 minutes long, but when you include the fact that students finally enter the room 5 minutes past the hour and it takes 10 to 15 minutes to kick start a class (after presence check and catching up on homework assignments). When you add back-to-back all theses interruptions, you end up with a big inefficiency. Why would we build an entire learning structure on the foundation that 30 minutes is enough to convey knowledge?
Could we look at building the classroom the other way around? Where students would be static within a given classroom and teachers would flow through the class and carry topics from the previous teacher to the next one.By doing so, we would reduce the inefficiency of moving 35+ kids from room to room and create this interrupted stream of information around a similar context but with different angles – literature, mathematics, sciences.
Teachers are the center stones of education, let’s remember that for a moment
How many of us remember that one great teacher, that one man or woman who made you fall in love with their subjects. We all had one. But within the education scheme, they seem to be the ones no one cares about. Few weeks ago I met a professor of Applied Mathematics-Computer Science and Computer Algorithms, British, in his 50’s with 30 years of experience. After a few hours of conversation, it was clear that he loved what he was doing. We talked about the evolution of technology, we shared our point of view on how technology could improve certain aspects of the learning experience and offer a quality education across a larger spectrum of kids around the world. Halfway through the conversation I felt I had to ask, “how much do you make?” and the answer shocked me – “24 000 AED + housing allowance”. After 30 years, several publications in specialised literature, this man was making less than 8000 USD per month (when you add the housing allowance). But at the same time, the same school was asking for 70 000 USD per year and per students.
We lack good teachers, we lack motivated teachers.
At the same time, teachers lack supervision and ongoing training. Why wouldn’t it be possible to set up video camera in a classroom to record every class? The recording could be reviewed by a panel of peers within the school – and through this review, teachers could provide feedback and areas of improvement in order to create more interactive learning environment as well as sharpen the specific education content. Doing so, we could improve the quality of the education teams. Furthermore, the classroom video could benefit students that couldn’t make it to the class due to sickness or even being edited into a weekly podcast for students abroad. Imagine being able to “be a part” of a physical class while being 3 000 km away! I am not talking about online education as we know it today but offering the real life experience of education though the medium of technology by putting together a live feed of your classroom, the digital content of the teacher’s material and social network for interactions between students. It might be naive, but at this point we can offer an identical learning experience for a chile in Ethiopia as the one in a classroom in London. The technology is not a substitute to good teachers – it’s a new tool in the teacher pencil box.
How tech can help the education
Over the past decade I witnessed a lot of tech initiatives around the globe. Jusoor (an NGO of Syrian expatriates helping refugees kids) has done a tremendous job when it comes to bringing technology into war zone to help students get the best education despite their current environment. Albert (a startup based in France/Canada) has launched a platform allowing teachers to produce content and broadcast it across classrooms and get rewarded through a market place. Albert brings back the teacher at the center of the education pyramid.
On the other side of the spectrum you have giants like Khan Academy and Coursera who decided to take the teacher (in the sense of the classroom teacher and replace them by content creator) away from the equation.
I believe teachers are fundamental to the learning experience, a relationship between a student and it’s teacher is essential for spreading knowledge. Teachers creates vocations, they shouldn’t be substituted with website courses and tablets.