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A blog about education. On Learneroo Itself. Blog Home
The Education Dialog
Moderator - I'd like to introduce our panelists today - Mr. Mark Carlos, Prof. John Ficht, and Sr. Henry Coates. Each of them (regardless of whether or not they exist) brings a unique perspective on education which will make this discussion interesting. Let's begin!
Do you think there is a problem in Education today?
It is of utmost importance for a child to get a good education. But unfortunately there are many obstacles and impediments that prevent children from reaching their potential. Television, the internet and video games cause kids to waste tons of time, and many children lack motivation to study well.
But probably one of the worst impediments to a good education wasn't mentioned. The School System. The overall system doesn't teach students effectively, doesn't teach them the topics they should know or want to know, and is ridiculously inefficient and expensive too. So yes, there is a problem in education today.
Prof. John Ficht
I don't think there is any large problem in education today. There are small improvements that can be made, but overall the system works. Students are taught a structured curriculum, and they go through different levels of school until they have the education that makes them a well-rounded individual and the credentials they need to get good job.
Some have criticized the standard lecture-style of education today. What do you think the role of the lecture is, and should it be changed?
I think the lecture model has stood for so long because it is effective. Lectures are effective at transmitting information to students so they have the knowledge they need to be educated and pass tests. Lectures are more dynamic than reading a book, and the professor or teacher can adjust the lecture to fit the students. There is a connection between the teacher and students in a lecture which is essential to education.
The lecture is an out-dated system that has very little place in education. It just consists of a teacher repeating the same material as always and writing on a board while students copy it. Why does the professor need to re-say what has been said before? Why do students need to re-write the notes, can't they just be given them? Note-taking is some kind of artificial attempt to get the students involved, but couldn't they been involved on a higher-level than just redundant re-writing? The whole system is one of regurgitation. They regurgitate notes during class, then they regurgitate facts during tests!
I see Mr. Carlos's point about a lecture with just the teacher talking, but I think there's an important role for discussion in many areas of education. So, if done properly, lectures with discussion are an important way for students to learn.
Can you elaborate more in the role of discussion in education?
Discussion can be important in many subjects that involve critical thinking that don't have simple binary answers. The teacher needs to be really good at leading the discussion, and the students should be a small group who are on a similar level with each other. It's important for students to be involved in the learning and not just sit passively listening. Carlos, wouldn't you agree to that too?
Maybe in theory, but in practice, discussions don't work out. For example, throughout school, much of the discussion time is just students reading a text out loud. All students are doing is regurgitating a text from written to oral form, but there's no thinking happening. Maybe that's the goal of the education system - getting students to regurgitate words between different formats.
Meanwhile, while one student is reading, other students are expected to keep their place with the reader, even if they can read much faster on their own. What is the point in restricting and boring students in such a manner?
Well that's not really discussion then. In practice, it may be difficult to get classes that are small enough to have good discussions together. An alternative would be to split students up into smaller groups to discuss topics on their own. The teacher wouldn't control the whole discussion, but students can learn a lot on their own and from each other.
In general, do you think there should be more tracking of students by level into different classes?
You cannot put people into boxes by assigning them to specific tracks. Everyone should be given equal opportunity to achieve their goals or the the general educational goals. It's better to give everyone the same encouragement and opportunity then to divide them up.
People are different from each other, and they should all be allowed to reach their full potential. If some students are struggling in one area, they should be able to get extra help, and not be prevented from it by being at the bottom of a class. If other students can learn more than what's taught in the class, they shouldn't be held back by the average level and pace of the class. Why should the best students be prevented from achieving what they can?
Schools like lumping everyone together just based on age, but in reality people are different. Schools often want to restrict everyone to one level in various subjects, but people have different capabilities. The more tracking the better, and if not in this education system, then the next!
I don't think we should worry as much as Prof. Ficht about putting everyone on the same level. As Carlos mentioned, it helps everyone to be in different tracks. In addition, there are many different topics and skills students should learn, so one student may excel in one area while another student is stronger in another area. And there are skills that can be taught besides pure academic ones.
Holding back the top students is a problem in schools. When people are not challenged, they don't learn as much. You cannot challenge each person at his or her level in one class with students at different levels! People get better at skills through "deliberate practice" that pushes the boundaries of their abilities, but schools do not provide opportunities for students to be challenged in this manner. So I definitely think there should be more tracking in schools.
We mentioned tests before, so what do you think their role in education is? How should students be evaluated, if at all?
People like criticizing tests, but at the end of the day, you need something to get students to learn, which they won't do without tests. They know they need the knowledge to be educated people or for their careers, but in the short-term, they need tests to motivate them. And while some tests are focused more on facts, you need a broad knowledge of facts to be able to think.
Students are forced to study for tests, not to learn what interests them or what is practical. The test are often on arbitrary facts that the student has little need for, and anyways could find it later without needing to memorize it. In fact, students usually forget the facts they memorized shorty after they regurgitate them on the test, so it doesn't help their "broad knowledge" either.
Meanwhile, while students are forced to take tests on arbitrary facts, many teachers refuse to be evaluated for their actual performance!
Well tests do serve the purpose that Prof. Ficht mentioned of getting students to learn. People need that accountability. However, they suffer from many of the problems that Carlos mentioned, and they only add accountability at the time of the test. A better approach may be for students to do more projects on their own or in a group to put the knowledge they are learning into practice. This can be ongoing and more meaningful than the memorization that tests require.
What do you think schools should have as requirements and curriculum?
I think the current education system does a pretty good job. Through grade school, students get the basics of a well-rounded education in different topics. In college, they continue that general education and also specialize in the specific area they're interested in. The general requirements are needed so for students to get a general education, and major requirements are needed so they actually learn the subject that they're pursuing.
There is a system which expects everyone follow along with blind faith, and not to question why things are that way. The system will not adjust to the times, and holds on stubbornly to out-dated beliefs. This is the education system today.
The educational system focuses on arbitrary topics that are neither desired by the student nor practical, and forces students to study them. It is a form of intellectual imprisonment to make students learn what they don't want to. All this while proclaiming intellectual freedom and inquiry! This is why a new system of education is needed!
Its true that there could be more choice in education. Students in earlier grades are rarely able to choose their classes. An even in colleges, some requirements seem rather arbitrary. I think we need to experiment with more alternatives to the current one dominant system.
What motivates students to learn? What could be done to improve their motivation?
The most important aspect to motivate students are the teachers. They can inspire a class and help each individual out. By making sure we have good teachers, we can keep students motivated. Other forms of motivation are also important, which is why we need tests, as I mentioned.
Its hard to be motivated when you're forced to learn a topic and you don't know why. Intellectual coercion does not inspire people! Students will be motivated if they can choose what they learn and pursue their passions.
Sr. Coates, you mentioned there should be more choice in schools. Can you elaborate on that?
Yes, the current system holds a strong monopoly on education, which isn't seen in most other areas of the economy. It would be fine if only one company made cars or telephones, since specific goods aren't ultimately that important. But education is more important that any good produced, since we're talking about decades of a human life! The competition among car-makers and phone-manufacturers helps drive innovation and lower costs, but the same cannot be said for education, where one system dominates.
I think we need to encourage many different approaches and people will be able to choose the best approach for them. The educational providers that fail to offer good services at low costs will be replaced, just like what happens in other areas.
You cannot take away money from the public schools. The public schools educate everyone, and they need more funds now, not less. This system has been in place for over 150 years, and this system is what works.
We've heard about the different issues on education, so now for the final question. What should we do practically to improve education?
Complaining about it isn't enough. This has been going on for too long, and the education system has remained dominant. Talking is easy, but something drastic really needs to be done. The intellectual oppression of the schools needs to end.
Students of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but the shackles on your mind, and a world to win! The time is ripe for revolution against the current system. In fact, revolution is inevitable considering the exploitation of the child by the current education system!
And some people thought academia was the last bastion of Marxism...
I think the system is good overall, but to improve, we need more funding. As Sr. Coates mentioned, people spend so much on cars and phones, so they should really spend more on the education of our children.
I don't know if revolution is the best idea, since utopias don't always work out as initially advertised. So we need to try to both improve the system from within, which may be slow, and also offer other alternatives in education. If we create alternatives that work, people will starts accepting them, and then the education incumbents will either adapt or slowly be supplanted.
One possibility to explore is to form small groups of top students to study on their own, with each other, and with a mentor. They may be able to learn more than students in regular schools.
If alternative models succeed, companies will be willing to hire such students, and then more students will go to such 'schools'. After all, companies just care about their own profits, so they'll hire whoever can do the job well. And students can from their own companies too, you don't need that much Capital nowadays to get started…