Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Risks in Basing Education on Current Information

I saw an announcement today about MS now offering Office 365 on student owned devices as part of the Ministry of Education's deal with Microsoft with comment about a report by IDC (released by Microsoft). The report supports the idea that MS Office skills are needed in jobs in which case, students should learn it.

Here's my problem. While jobs currently list MS Office skills as important, the conclusions being drawn are very much erroneous. What the workplace wants now is not what the companies that students want to be working for tomorrow are going to want. What do I mean by this?

I remember when we used to use floppy disks... Lots and lots of floppies. All of 1.44MB per disk. That was a lot of disks if you wanted to move anything kind of large. At one stage I had 30 odd disks for one program.

Probably... 10 years ago? I went for a job interview where they were STILL using floppy disks. It was the one time where the traditional job application process would have lead to a job except... there was something really.... depressing about going back to floppy disks. This was well after cd's, zip disks, jazz drives, and usb memory sticks (even the smallest memory stick is more reliable than a floppy disk).

So they had their time. But having skills in being able to format a floppy, copy files to and from it and using tools to revive what I could off them wasn't at all relevant by the time I reached the workplace.

Technology moves even faster. While Google Docs is in no way (those who tell you otherwise are on the take) a competitor in terms of functionality, MS Office 365 is likely to lose popularity due to it's lack of support on currently trending platforms. In other words, if word processor and spreadsheet functionality is the only reason to stick to a Windows platform, then people will be looking for the alternative.

So those Office 365 skills? There's a very good chance those skills aren't going to be useful by the time a student enters the workplace. What should we teach? How about how to handle change... how to transfer skills and pick up things quickly...

In a way, kids are already far better at this than a lot of the adults I've worked with. The most obvious sign of the lack of this skill is note taking when using computers. Take my mother for example. She'll ask me something like "How do I print?". Kids are more likely to figure out the context - What sort of operation is printing? If that doesn't work, then follow the flowchart to the left.

How do we teach this? Switch things up. Don't rely on one application. Have a look at the others out there. Abiword, Google Docs, LibreOffice, LyX etc.

What stops this from happening? Well... I would hazard a guess and say it's to do with educators. Given that they've never been taught in such a way to switch things up and learn quickly, then each and everyone of those applications would need a separate professional development session and the time to experiment with each application.

Which all goes to my whole criticism on the education system being more about the capacity of educators rather than bringing out the full capacity of students. What do I mean by this? The Ubuntu netbooks gave some students the space to learn a whole lot of other skills. Unfortunately the lack of control of teachers on those netbooks overshadowed the skills that kids were picking up outside of the curriculum - but transferable skills. i.e. some kids were learning programming. Something that they have less capacity to do on the walled garden that is the Chromebook.

I'm very much of the opinion that we should learn to ignore the vendor specific bullshit and get on with education. Quit the brand loyalty and start looking at the potential for learning. Does it all have to be about the curriculum or can we start to get beyond that and acknowledge that skills are far more important i.e. someone who can look at a paper clip and see the potential for something entirely different probably has absolutely nothing to do with reading, writing or math BUT is a skill that's going to treat them well. Hell - challenge things. If teachers were willing to allow the kids be ahead of them... imagine the sorts of things each of them would be learning!

Let's get past our own insecurities and concentrate on the learning instead...

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