Archive for Viewpoint

Volunteer teaching in Uganda

The impulsive decision to make a trip to Africa was made shortly after an unsolicited  email arrived in my inbox about volunteering in Uganda.   I was already considering attending  an Open Learning Exchange conference in neighboring Rwanda, so  I decided to  “volunteer”  (by paying the prescribed fee to IFRE volunteers), and in no time at all a two week stay at a small and cheerful school was arranged for me, timed to follow on from the four day OLE conference in Kigali, Rwanda. It was an incredible experience. I found it amazing that the children learned as much as they did with almost no teaching resources (like reading books, or paper to draw on . . ), and (corny as it sounds),  how well-behaved and infectiously happy the children were, as you can see from the videos further down the page.

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Education reform – evolution or revolution?

In his article on “The future of Education” futurist Thomas Frey argues our current classroom-centric based education system is an outmoded legacy from the past that is now limiting educational development, just as the roman numeral system restrained the development of mathematics.

He envisions trends that will significantly enhance education will be based on:-

1) the use of confidence-based learning to significantly increase learning speed and comprehension

2) learning what we want, when we want – shifting away from a prescribed course agenda to one that is hyper-individualized, self-selected, and scheduled whenever a student wishes to take it will dramatically change levels of motivation

3) continued improvements in technology to improve the speed and comprehension of learning

He also was confident these changes would all start to occur within two years.  At least he was two years ago.

Never-the-less it’s an interesting and informative read.

Ken Robinson is another high-profile figure making the observation (May 2010 Ted Talks) that currently every education system in the world is being reformed. However the problem is that all reform does is try to improve an already broken model – what is needed is not evolution but revolution. He compares the current education system to a fast food system with similar detrimental effects.

There’s a tantalizing tinge of change in the air, but no clear direction yet. Then again, that would require general agreement about what education should achieve and how it should be done. Is that ever likely to happen?

Roll over Newton – here come the preppies!

No-one would dispute that some understanding of science is essential learning to prepare students for the world of tomorrow.  So it’s hardly surprising that science is now included in educational activities as often as possible, even, it seems, at preschool.

“I think creativity and play are key in those (prep and pre-prep) years, but then often times those opportunities for creativity and play are directly tailored for opportunities to learning science concepts, interaction, communication strategies, so they’re quite rich years.”

Professor Claire Wyatt-Smith – Dean of the Faculty of Education, Griffith University

The Future of Education in Queensland (February 2010)

Hmmm.  Learning science concepts in preschool? It seems like rather a tall order, given that it is generally accepted that preschoolers struggle with abstract concepts, but perhaps I’m being pedantic.

What does concern me is that the enthusiastic rush  to nurture junior scientists skilled in scientific method will produce a crop of students who are turned off science for life.  Students who think that all there is to science is observing, measuring, plotting graphs,comparing and learning the meaning of lots of big words, like precipitation.  Recording measurements and observations is a mechanical and frequently boring activity, not a scientific one.  This is the hack work of science – it’s the means to an end, not the end in itself. The heart and soul of science is not the results, or even analysing the results,  but discovering unanswered questions, and then embarking on a quest to find the solution.

Ask Einstein. He didn’t do one single experiment, or record one single measurement. Not one!  He didn’t even supervise any experiments. Einstein’s brilliance was his ability to ask the amazing questions that were his “thought” experiments, and then find a logical, provable  answer.

The essence of science is curiosity. If we want more future scientists, then we need  develop student’s abilities to ask questions, and be motivated by their curiosity to look for the answers.

Come to think of it – that’s what the preschool and prep year children already do quite well.

Further reading:

A Physics teacher begs for his subject back An open letter to the British education department by a physics teacher protesting that the GCSE physics examination questions are vague, stupid, political an non-scientific.

The sad state of science education A dramatic (and hopefully atypical) example of misunderstanding what science is about in a class of New York 5th and 6th graders.