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We don’t need no education?


I suspect most readers of this blog will have seen ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ a 2007 TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, a former Government education advisor, which has garnered more than 6 million hits. He delivers an amusing but devastating critique of conventional education, dismissing it as a system designed to produce academics – like himself! His point is well made, for education is in crisis.

Few would disagree about Ken’s main theme – that the spontaneous creativity demonstrated by children in their early years must somehow be harnessed rather than inhibited by the education system. This is a subject close to the heart of every parent and employer, and the debate about education remains a hot topic.

But how to achieve this? The subject has just gained fresh impetus from comments by Joanna Shields (the UK’s ambassador for digital industries and chairman of TechCity UK) at the Mayor of London’s international business advisers committee meeting.

Joanna’s focus was on language, deriving from her battles with her teenage son about his obstinate refusal to get to grips with French. She has come to believe that ‘language’ should mean Coding, not Romance. She notes that entrepreneur and web pioneer Marc Andreessen shrewdly observed: “The spread of computers and the internet will put jobs into two categories: people who tell computers what to do and people who are told by computers what to do.” She wants to be sure that “our kids are the ones telling computers what to do”.

Following this fresh definition of language as a discipline, what else should be taught innovatively in our schools and colleges?

This month, a revolutionary critique of modern educational methods: Seven Myths About Education was published by Daisy Christodoulou, based partly on her own experience as a teacher in the modern system. It’s revolutionary because it exposes the nonsense of allowing children free reign to ‘discover’ instead of learning in a (traditional) structured framework. She also believes that the fashionable emphasis on ‘21st Century skills’ is a red herring. She draws attention to substantial advances in cognitive science which point the way to effective teaching, evidence which is largely ignored by both government and the trainers of teachers.

Using evidence from thought leaders such as Herbert Simon, the Nobel Prize-winning pioneer of Artificial Intelligence, and Keith Stanovich, the leading researcher in reading skills, she makes the point that learning is hard work for sure, but that, contrary to the romantic views of ‘modernist’ teachers, children actually enjoy and thrive on such challenges. This is demonstrated in international differences in performance of children in different systems, where the structured approaches favoured in many Asian countries consistently produce better results.

So should children be left to ‘discover’, or should they be helped to learn using scientifically validated methods? Your answer may determine the course of your children’s future.

Photo Credit: Môsieur J. [version 9.1] via Compfight cc

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