As a few people are still speaking to me and using up my time I thought it might be an idea to aim at that most sacred of cows the system known as education. From my previous blog on the use of ICT you will gather that I don’t necessarily follow fashion in these matters.
Is context helpful? It usually is. My experience spans higher education, further education and professional courses, with a little bit of training thrown in. It crosses across numerous institutions. Thus the context of this blog is aimed pretty much at all post sixteen education, though as I have a daughter at school I won’t let a lack of direct experience restrict me. For structural purposes only I’ll start at youngest and lowest level and move forward.
I enjoyed my school days, mostly because no one seemed to push me. I’m yet to determine if that was a good thing. Now it seems that there is a constant barrage of tests. That said there also seems to be a meandering curriculum. I’m pretty much of the opinion that you need to read, write and count as a starting point and remain fairly shocked by some of what I see emerging at 16. Teachers seem to work hard but I suspect they are overloaded with top-down initiatives. Whether it be the Olympics or sustainability, enterprise or culture it seems that there is a reluctance to let teachers just teach the basics in a context that suits them and their students, allowing themes to emerge rather than be forced.
This translates nicely into the post-sixteen sphere. Here we are confronted with students who often have poor literacy skills. Now you might say that literacy isn’t everything; that many have gotten by without it. The problem is that we are now in the twenty first century where a failure to access and comprehend written material severely limits your engagement and understanding of society and politics. In fact being able to access this is a basic human right. So what is the national post 16 reaction to this? Well it’s impossible to recap all that was missed and still achieve success so people tend to retreat to simpler forms of assessment. Add in the silver bullet of ICT and we have the perfect answer. Students can be set reports to write, given clear instructions and guided towards the answers on-line. Call it all ‘research’ and it actually sounds like something cerebral is occurring – I prefer to call it a typing course. So now we have a group of students emerging who find it difficult to conduct unguided independent study, who confuse research with following instructions and still have limited ability to construct a rational argument.
Enter the hallowed halls of higher education. What now? Well against budget cuts, higher fees, reluctant staff and students as described what can we do? Traditionally theory was presented, discussed, assignment set and research conducted. Why is that failing? Well first presenting theory to individuals who have never had to think independently is destined to be a struggle. The discussion will then of course also be limited, as will the understanding of an assignment that is not explained in such a detailed way as to leave little to the imagination and as for research, see previous points. Our response? Well distance learning jumps in here a little, or at least a hybrid version of it. Place all the materials on-line so they can dip in and out when required. Guide them tightly toward the right sources and set tasks based on them (ps – the best bit is it’s cheap). And as for those that do turn up we have retreated to a version of education I last spotted in Beth’s kindergarten. We lack inspirational lecturers capable of holding the interest of a class, a class who are less interested than ever. In order to produce a method that management systems can measure we adopt strange hybrids of exercises, tasks and simulations. We believe that this somehow links theory to practice, forgetting that no one has ever introduced the theory in anything but the most trivial of ways and that the simulation is as representative of reality as COD is of being on the front line in Afghanistan.
Do I have solutions or is this just a random rant? Well I do actually, nice simple ones. At 16 plus we need to restrict the use of ICT to being one of unguided research only and only ever for a maximum of 25% of the day, preferably less. As for HE we need to reassert the role of the lecturer, to celebrate it, to give it centre stage if you like. To love theory and application and translate that love in our delivery. To celebrate knowledge and understanding. To be passionate.