Monday, November 13, 2006

Don't think - learn !

I came across this Remote Access blog today which really crystallises many of the thoughts I've been having over the last few years;

"I'm getting to the point where I want to be finished with old ways. I truly believe that we are actively harming the kids in our classrooms when we are not preparing them for the society they live in. But more and more I roll around at night, get up early in the mornings and wonder what those new ways look like. Do we even know what we want? What would a classroom that actively supports kids in learning the skills which will best prepare them to be active, informed, concerned citizens in the twenty first century look like? If we could do anything, what would it be?"

As my daughter gets older and has entered the Greek educational system I become more and more worried about the quality of education she's receiving. It's not just the endless strikes and lost days but something much more fundamental. What exactly does this system want to achieve? If you've listened to the various ministers of education over the years, they all say that they want well-rounded individuals able to deal with the challenges of the modern world. Yet, like so many of their pronouncements, the wonderful statements bear little or no relation to the reality I see in schools and in the knowledge and skills that the students acquire.

Whilst the system may not be preparing kids for the demands of the twenty-first century,

"it was the ideal preparation for the Organization Man economy, a highly structured world dominated by large, bureaucratic corporations that routinized the workplace. Compulsory mass schooling equipped generations of future factory workers and middle managers with the basic skills and knowledge they needed on the job. The broader lessons it conveyed were equally crucial. Kids learned how to obey rules, follow orders, and respect authority -- and the penalties that came with refusal."

Daniel H. Pink - School's Out

The problem is that world is fast changing, disappearing even, and still the curriculum, with its heavy emphasis on theory and it's chronic distaste for practical application of knowledge continues to churn out thousands of students with precious few marketable skills, crammed with "facts" like some kind of goose being prepared for the production of liver pate.

I think the most damning indictment of the present situation came from the mouth of an ten year old student I was teaching English to last week. At the end of the lesson she sighed that she now had to study her history homework. When I asked her what she had to do, she replied that she had to learn a page from the book by heart. The passage, which was about the difference between an aristocratic and a democratic form of government in ancient Athens, was way beyond what you could reasonably expect from an ten-year old. She read out the passage and when I asked what she understood, she said, "nothing". But as her sister, who is seventeen said, if she wants a good grade what she had to do was learn it by heart. The saddest thing about this whole story is that her sister is right. As long as she can repeat in class the teacher will be happy.

The moral of the story?

Don't think - learn !

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