Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Criticisms of the Education System

At lunch today a few friends and I sat around talking about education. One of them was saying that he felt completely left behind. I had tried to show him something the other day and his anxiety levels shot through the roof - he just about yelled at me.

Another one was saying that he found that school had no redeeming features for him. He resented the forced atmosphere. While he could learn from someone out of the classroom situation, the classroom was never an environment inducive to learning to him. While he was far ahead of others, he'd often read books in class - which were promptly taken away from him.

I've been thinking about the whole learning problem. People learn despite of us. I remember doing assignments which I'd score low marks on but would get really enthusiastic about. The problem was that I would find a tangent that would interest me. For example, for chemistry, I did an assignment on carbohydrates. The information I found lead to diabetes which got me interested. While I provided the information needed for the assignment, I carried on learning... I included all of the stuff about diabetes. Low marks...

Same year, same class, unit standards was just being introduced. I had been an 80-90% kind of a student in most exams (assignments were always a different story) and suddenly I'm in an assessment method where I simply wasn't passing anything. No units. Nothing. It wasn't that I was finding the subject hard. I was finding the assessment criteria difficult.

I've been thinking about this for a little while. The comparison became sharp when I worked with a couple of home school kids. While they were being encouraged to try new things and explore, it feels like the classroom doesn't lead to this. During the whole Manaiakalani thing, I kept getting requests from teachers to block certain things. The Chromebooks are considered a much better environment because they are limited and easier to control.

Note, this wasn't at all a limitation of the netbooks, but rather, it came down to a question of ethics for me. Is it moral to lock a user out of their machine? Don't get me wrong. I'm quite willing to block certain things - things that fall under "safety" - but for the most part, if a user owns a computer, I believe that person/company etc. should have access to that computer. It's not mine. I know, this is in the face of I.T. administrators everywhere. Ironically, this is the sort of thing that MS Windows does well. Group policies and the like...

I can understand why teachers are looking for more control. 24+ kids to look after... That doesn't lead to the type of teaching people rant and rave about. It's a forced atmosphere where a single child can interrupt a carefully put together lesson plan. Imagine it though. For the kid who's really struggling to keep up, they're getting more and more frustrated as they struggle and eventually give up. Of course, this is where the majority of attention is placed.

Meanwhile, those kids who are well ahead are often not identified. I don't mean those right at the top but rather those who fall between the gaps. They're smart, probably lack a bit of confidence because they perceive that they're somehow different, and become more and more isolated. Studious types who want to be challenged. Hell, these could be the kids who are really bored.

So my big objection to national standards is that it puts the emphasis on kids reaching those standards. Not everyone learns in the same way on any given day. And standardised testing assumes that every child is the same. I'm not adverse to standardised testing in general principal. I mean, being able to compare apples with apples is a good thing. But when the emphasis becomes comparing apples with apples, it's a really bad thing. An obsession on quantifying rather than triggering curiosity is a hellishly bad thing. I've had crazy clever/smart friends fail due to being bored and unengaged. Hell - I've failed papers for the same reason.

The video attached says it much better than I ever could.

Which all points to a number of problems. Classes lead to class control which doesn't accommodate to the fringes - those that could possibly go off and learn on their own (if they didn't have to be so concerned with meeting those assessment criterias) and those who suffer anxiety about being taught. Assessments don't take into account learning and instead focus on very narrow criteria - how can you assess people in such a way as to make it meaningful? Given that assessment is the difference between being able to do a course at a tertiary level and not being admitted, this is quite important. How do you keep people engaged with learning and not block off those areas that they find interesting?

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