Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The future of teaching

The cry for abundant cheap energy has been the focus of most countries for over a hundred years but almost out of nowhere and without anyone really noticing information took its place. Our world has transformed. Information is now abundant and cheap and in many cases free to a large percentage of the world's population. With so much free information those who have pursued a career as teachers may be wondering what the future holds. If the teacher of today thinks they can continue doing what teachers have been doing for as long as anyone can remember they may be in for a rude shock. In the same way that the telephone changed the way we communicate the Internet is doing the same for the way we educate. We just don't realise it yet because we are in the transition phase.

Times are a changin'

When we think of a school teacher or a university lecturer we imagine someone standing up in front of a classroom and lecturing while writing on a blackboard. We are required to write down and learn the information and then every so often we are given a test to see if we have understood or at the very least memorised the information. The teacher marks our test, we pass or fail and our exam results ultimately determine our next step. It is now obvious all this can be done via the Internet without the need for a teacher or a classroom for that matter. Checkout Khan Academy for one such example. Students can watch prerecorded lessons and then do a test at the end. Sure some people can cheat but most people won't cheat because at some point they will get caught out. Usually when they go for a job interview.

Home schooling and private tutors

Home schooling is on the rise and the demand for private tutors is increasing. Parents are taking control of their child's education and are tailoring the experience to suit their child's needs. The 30 child classroom is not exactly ideal for learning. Children need to compete for limited time with their teacher and the individual needs of children are rarely met. Most parents have no idea what happens between the hours of 9am to 3pm. Choosing a private tutor allows their child to get valuable one on one time with a teacher who can assess the student's individual needs. If done in their home in many cases they can listen in and observe how their child responds. Private tutors are also usually specialists. School teachers have to cover many subjects. For example most primary school teachers teach a music component but very few of these teachers would call themselves musicians.

Exactly what will future teachers do?

How often do we hear that there are not enough teachers. Every politician promises more funding for education and more teachers to help reduce class sizes where ratios of 30 children to one teacher are normal. If the Internet can dramatically reduce the role of the teacher this means the teacher can be doing more important work. Imagine if students stayed at home and did their academic learning online. A system of measurement could be employed that allow the education department to track their progress. Teachers could instead use their time to monitor individual students dropping in on them via video conferencing as well doing video lessons that could be catalogued for use by students and other teachers. School teachers could also become specialists focusing on just one subject like private tutors. Even better teachers could become like Google employees spending 20% of their time on creative projects to help students learn. Imagine if teachers worked with video game engineers in creating video games that were both engaging and educational.

What about the social aspect?

Schools could be turned into social play centres where children could come together to have fun and get physical. Each school would have different activities such as gym class, games rooms, music room, a swimming pool etc. Children would be required to do a certain amount of hours at school (play) each week but could come and go when it suited them depending on their interests and schedule. This would help parents who are trying to manage several children and/or a career. Children could organise their time at school around their friends as well. Schools in an area could also specialise. For a example one school could be a music centre full of instruments with private music tutors, band rooms and even a recording studio. The possibilities are endless.

Is this achievable?

I think its not only achievable but inevitable. Parents are quickly realising that their children only really need school for the social aspect.  As they discover alternatives for social interaction they will slowly move out of the school system. Children who get a range of specialised education advantages will simply do better. The Montessori schools (currently 20,000 schools worldwide) understand this shift. The Google owners (Brin and Page) are examples of former students. Their approach is to allow students to have more freedom in the way they learn. This nurtures a passion for learning and creativity.  Parents are looking at alternatives and the Internet is making the shift easier than ever before.

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