Doing battle

I'm on a mission. Starting with my keynote speech on 2nd September at the Royal Geographical Society, I'm on my world tour to try to change people's minds about what education is really all about. OK, the 'world tour' bit is a joke, but I do have a number of impending speaking engagements around the world. I will be tackling issues surrounding current education, and will be talking about things like transformation of educational practice through the application of new technology, creativity, and personalisation of learning - which I think are three big guns that can be used in the battle against educational malaise. I will be the first to admit that I don't have all the answers, but I have some ideas about how we might possibly make some educational experiences better for the young people we teach.

For a start, we need to examine what 'education' actually means. Education comes from the Latin word educere which means to draw out from within, or to tap into someone's potential. It doesn't mean control. It means letting go. Socrates had the right idea, bless him. Instead of lecturing his students, he debated with them, never giving straight answers, always pushing, questioning. It's a long way from this to today's formal education, I contend. How can you draw out a student's creative potential or even discover what it is they do best, when you are intent on following a rigid curriculum with no time or space for play, experimentation or questioning? Don't get me wrong, I don't blame the teachers. I blame government departments who want to control, and the examination boards who test to find out how well teachers are doing and how much a student can remember during an examination, rather than finding out how students learn best. It's assessment of learning rather than assessment for learning. Many students don't stand much of a chance. If they learn anything (apart from synchronised behaviour and compliance with authority), it is achieved in spite of 'the school'. Isn't it ridiculous that the failing schools are the ones that have their finances reduced, just when they need it most? Education is not about punishment or reward. It's about creating environments in which students can best reach their full potential. Do schools do that? As Alvin Toffler said: "The system doesn't need reforming, it needs replacing".

Secondly, we need to know more about how technology can support formal learning in the same way as it supports informal learning. Yes, I know, the boundaries between the two are blurring considerably, but there is still a divide in the minds of students between what is informal and 'fun', and what is formal and 'expected' of them. I want to go to war on the idea that technology is there to constrain and contain learning, and instead argue that new and emerging technologies (many students have them in their pockets or handbags but aren't allowed to use them in formal settings) can liberate learners by extending, enriching and enhancing learning opportunities.

Thirdly, I want to challenge the idea that one size fits all. Curricula in schools are still largely based upon the old industrial models of delivery, and for the sake of economy rather than expediency, are based on linearity, and a 'just in case' approach. Let's learn all the topics, cram them in, and have a taste of each, just in case you need them later in life. We need to bypass this, supplant the 'just in time' model and go directly to the 'just for me' approach. We need to stop preparing children for yesterday and start preparing them for tomorrow. This will need a radical overhaul not only of funding in schools and colleges, but also a radical overhaul in the mindsets of all those who are involved in the business of education. To stop managing learning, and hand more of the control over to the learner, teachers roles will need to change. They will need to become facilitators, mentors, participators in the community of learning, rather than controllers, lecturers, or managers. It's happening, but too slowly to cope with the pace of change we see in society.

My itinerary is a punishing one, with something like 2 dozen invited presentations, workshops and conference papers from now until Christmas, in Australia, New Zealand, USA, Germany, Poland, Hungary, and of course the UK (where I will be speaking in London, Nottingham and Leeds), but I think it will be worth all the miles I will travel to engage with audiences about these important issues. After all, we are talking about the future of education - the future of our own children.
NB: The picture above is of a cannon outside the gates of Castillo San Gabriel, in Arrecife (Lanzarote). More of the same can be seen here.

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Doing battle by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Comments

Jonathan said…
Good luck with that! It's a lonely road talking about this stuff and there are times I go about it with zeal and others where I just want to give in.

Take a look at my teaching philosophy - it was supposed to be irreverent and a dig at my bosses but it turns out they liked it enough to give me an award. Now if only they'll like it enough to do something about the problem...
Anonymous said…
If you can find a way of explaining how this helps you make 40% funding cuts, you're onto a winner!
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for your comments Jonathan. It is a lonely road, but I'm passionate about these issues.

And Scott, it depends on whether you regard funding cuts as an opportunity or a threat. We all knew the cuts were coming sometime ago, but ultimately, it's not always about money. Just visit the any African village school and you'll see what I mean. Creativity can thrive regardless of resources, especially when necessity is the mother of invention. :-)
Chuck said…
When I read this I wanted to jump up and scream YES, then I realized I was in a structured environment, with structured curricula, trying to change this within. Thanks for this post, I have long held education today fails to serve the community.
Tamas Lorincz said…
Sounds like a pretty hectic but incredibly useful trip. Thanks for mentioning Hungary, thus I found out about the EDEN Project, and registered. Hopefully they'll accept me as a member and then I get a chance to see you in Budapest. Looking forward to it.
Steve Wheeler said…
Tamas, I hope you apply to EDEN for membership - it's open to anyone who is interested in distance educaction and e-learning, so I am confident you will be able to join. I have been going to EDEN conferences now since 1997, so I'm delighted they have seen fit to invite me to keynote the Budapest Conference, on Open Educational Resources. I hope to see you there.

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