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Twenty-first century education

I've been thinking a lot about education recently and so, it would appear, have lots of other bloggers. I'm sure there are millions of other people trying to work out precisely what the information revolution means for the way their kids are taught at school, or if, in fact, they should actually go to school at all. Or, indeed, if they should actually be taught, when it comes to it.

I mean, if Google can point you to the answer to pretty much everything in a matter of seconds, why would you want to go and sit in a dingy room and listen to a series of slightly crusty and completely unreformed socialists for six hours a day? What they tell you will be largely rubbish, and most of what isn't rubbish will be out of date. What is the point?

As I said, people much more erudite than me have been giving this some thought. Brian Micklethwait posted something the other day. The internet has changed things, he agrees, but he's not positing a thesis about what actually it means for us education consumers in practical terms, apart from the fact that home-ed becomes easier. This of course, is one possible answer to the question. Maybe children shouldn't go to school any more - they should learn at home. I don't think there's any doubt they'll learn more. They will probably become better at learning autonomously which has to be a key skill for the 21st century. But will they develop the people skills that are probably going to be key in the future. Yes, I know that home-ed children have lots of opportunities for socialising, and I know the arguments for socialising outwith their age group. But what about mixing with people you don't actually like? Isn't this important too?

Someone else who has been thinking about education is Sir Ken Robinson, who I'd never heard of before, but I'll certainly be looking out for him again after watching this presentation of his on the subject of education. What a wonderful speaker! Quite why he's not a household name is a mystery to me. He's far funnier than most stand-up comedians I've come across and is inspiring at the same time. He can also say "Al Gore" without spitting, which may be a remarkable skill on his part or may on the other hand be a major character flaw.  Either way, watch the video (not the audio) - I promise you won't regret it. His thesis is that we need to be stop destroying creativity in children, and he may well be right. I'm not completely convinced by all of his arguments though - this kind of creativity will be important in the future but it will not be for everyone. We are still going to need accountants and managers and people who do the boring stuff. His ideas do seem to suggest though  that school, as currently configured, is not the right ambience for developing the talents the creative sector will need.

Clive Davis points us to someone else who has been chewing over the meaning of education - the author Susan Hill. She has a blog here, and on it has posted a piece about whether children should be studying the 19th century greats, questioning whether it might be better to get them to read things they, you know, enjoy. She tells the story of a boy who was fascinated by fishing and was lead to reading by means of fishing magazines. Would he have got anywhere with "The Mill on the Floss"? I'm sure she's right when she implies that he would not. Again, I have to draw the conclusion that the one-size-fits-all approach of schools is failing many children, although in this case it's a failing that has been around for decades.

What does it all mean? What is the optimum way of learning in the new century? I don't know. I need to think about it some more. But it's good to know that better minds than mine are trying to answer the questions too.


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Reader Comments (6)

"What is the optimum way of learning?"

There isn't one. Just as there is not an optimum car or hamburger. So let us not try to find one. De-regulate and introduce a voucher/tax-credit system and let the market do its magic.
Feb 21, 2007 at 9:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterKit
"But what about mixing with people you don't actually like? Isn't this important too?"

I've always thought that this is an unnecessary cruelty that we inflict on children. I don't think I've ever spent much time with someone I have disliked since I left school. It simply escapes me why so many people think it's a good thing.
Feb 21, 2007 at 10:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndy Wood

Yes you're right of course, which is why I think Sir Ken is only partially correct. How though do we deliver this kind of diversity in education through a school system?


Surely in most workplaces, you have to deal with people you don't actually like very much. If you don't have to do it, I would have thought that you were one of the lucky few.
Feb 22, 2007 at 9:01 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill
But if you're an adult, it's very easy to avoid mixing with people you dislike. If you find, after accepting a job, that you can't stand your boss or co-workers, it's easy enough to quit and look for a new job.

Children aren't given that choice. If they can't stand their class-mates, that's just tough luck for them.
Feb 22, 2007 at 4:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndy Wood
I don't think I'm talking about a case of not being able to stand the boss. Rather, one of finding him mildly irritating or pompous, and just having to rub along. It's a life skill isn't it?
Feb 22, 2007 at 4:57 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill
Well if that's all you're talking about you hardly need to imprison children. They're going to encounter these people anyway, whether they go to school or not. It's a skill that strikes me as trivially easy to acquire.
Feb 23, 2007 at 12:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndy Wood

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