Sunday 17 March 2019

#OpenBlog19 What's wrong with education?

The #OpenBlog19 challenge created by David Hopkins is sparking a series of posts where educators go on to challenge others to write a blog in answer to a given question. Steve Wheeler challenged me to write about 'What's wrong with education'.

My initial thought was that I would have much preferred talking about what is good with education! There are so many good examples I'd love to share from the many educators I connect with online through Twitter, that have openly shared with others how they engage their students; how they co-learn together; and how they experiment with innovative and creative approaches using Lego, social media, digital technology, post-its, role play and so much more. 

So back to the question. I'm not the kind of person that can just list what is wrong, as I have the strong desire to consider what we can do about it. I know I may not have all the answers and therefore I think it is so important that we discuss any such issues with our peers and in this context also with our students. So with that said I will still offer a few of my own observations. 

Identifying a purpose for learning

I still remember sitting in maths class challenging the teacher about the maths we were attempting to learn, asking where this would be used. I was always motivated when I could see how it could be applied AND put into useful practice and de-motivated when my questions were brushed aside and told you just need to learn it... 

I think we need to consider more ways in which we create situations where students can apply their learning, re-visit this through reflection and feedback and then have opportunities to re-apply an enhanced version of their learning. There are many examples where students work on authentic projects with a purposeful outcome. When these involve real-life situations to investigate, analyse or solve, this is where I see the sparks and enthusiasm. 

I suggest that we need to:

  • reconsider how we can encourage curiosity, intrigue, excitement, the desire to question, and the confidence to critically challenge.
  • encourage creativity and reflection on not just what has been learned but identify what could be done to improve
  • acknowledge learning is challenging for all of us
  • support multiple attempts and endorse FAIL as 'first attempt in learning'
  • find more opportunities for students to apply their learning that is meaningful to them and society

Developing our practice through professional development

We know that there are educators who continue to teach as they experienced 'being in the classroom' and this is not always a good thing. That's not to say that what may be called traditional approaches don't equate to a positive learning experience. For example there are many great examples of the lecture being an incredibly engaging experience, but we also know having being on the receiving end of being talked at, that we can quickly disengage. Why would it be different for our students? 

Going to educational conferences, seminars or workshops within or beyond your university, college or school has for many provided great inspiration to enhance practice. When we can hear from peers about innovative practice that is evidenced as being valued by learners, it provides inspiration to re-look at our own practice. It's important to to have those discussions about new interventions that haven't worked too. 

However CPD budgets are being cut and sadly in some cases becoming non existent. It is important that we look for other ways to learn from peers. As already mentioned this is happening across the globe where educators have appropriated social media and digital technology to connect, communicate and collaborate. For me everyday is a learning day and I am constantly learning from peers. As educators we need to fire our enthusiasm for professional development and take responsibility for this. Equally I would argue that this needs to be recognised as well as encouraged by senior leadership in our institutions.  

I am sure you will have come across the quotes below in some form or another. These apply to everyone one of us and not just the students we teach. 

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” wrongly attributed to W. B. Yeats and "The purpose of education is not to fill a vessel but to kindle a flame" to Alfred North Whitehead (who also is quoted to say "Fundamental progress has to do with the reinterpretation of basic ideas.") 
"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled"

Plutarch (46 AD - 120 AD) 
As educators we need to lead by example and embrace lifelong learning. We need to reflect on how we teach and get feedback on how we teach; observe how others teach and learn about new ways to enhance our own teaching. 

We need to trust and value those of our peers who have roles for example as educational developers, learning technologists, learning developers, librarians. Professional development needs to be embedded in our practice and time allocated to do this, but not as the odd bolt on. CPD is what is says on the tin - continuous professional development.   

A misconception of the purpose of education 

This is an extract from a paper titled the 'Purpose of Learning' by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1947. I think it may suffice to say that we all need to reflect on and learn from history.  

Most of the "brethren" think that education should equip them with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the masses. Still others think that education should furnish them with noble ends rather than means to an end.

It seems to me that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.

Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one's self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.

Martin Luther King Jr. 1947

Finding our purpose

A thought to leave you with


Martin Luther King Jr. (1947) The Purpose of Education.

Quote Investigator

Image credit
Free for commercial use. No attribution required: