What kind of education system do we need?
Public elementary and secondary schools around the world were designed for the agrarian age. The six hour school day allowed time for the children to do daily farm chores and the 180 day school year allowed them to help plant and harvest crops. Such schedules meant that school facilities were created around the needs of the farm economy. With the industrial revolution schools became important for the technical skills needed in the factory. Consequently, school facilities became egg carton classrooms comparable to factory workstations and time schedules needed for assembly lines in our factories. Pupils were taught to come to work (school) on time and to follow in lockstep from class to class. They learned the math and reading skills needed to work in the factory. For today’s modern world this design is an inefficient use of talented personnel and facilities.
The primary objectives of K-12 schools today include (1) a baby-sitting function and (2) a learning environment. In a modern society with both parents working the baby-sitting function becomes a critical element of schools. With the present school schedules the baby-sitting function requires us to develop “after school” programs and summer camp experiences.
We must redirect schools so that the learning environment is the most critical school element. More than 100 years ago John Dewy described a project based learning environment. Today with modern technologies we can create that authentic learning environment. Learning needs to be modernized so that all learners are engaged, inspired, and motivated to excel in their pursuit of excellence. Therefore, in a proper environment learners become empowered by the knowledge they gain.
Schools should operate year round and be open at least twelve hours daily. In such a system learners take the time needed to reach their individual educational goals. Some traditional classrooms will still provide lectures, but much of the learning will be project based team activities. Each student will have an individual learning plan. Teachers will be mentors helping learners achieve their goals and objectives. Each learner will have the time he or she needs to accomplish his or her goals and objectives. Most importantly, all learners will have the modern technology that gives them access to information, knowledge, and wisdom.
We must revise our thinking and create learning environments that can produce the skills and knowledge needed for the Twenty First Century.
Our educated forefathers had extensive private libraries. The Library of Congress was reestablished by the donation of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library after the British burned down the original Library of Congress. Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library of 6,487 books to the USA to rebuild the Library of Congress. Today there are digital text devices that weigh only 30 ounces and can hold entire libraries. This means that learners can have their own personal libraries.
The Los Angles Times once named Andrew Carnegie as the most important educator of all time because he pushed for free public libraries. His belief was that any literate person who had access to a library could learn. The printing press and cheap books were the foundations upon which public schools were built in the 1800’s. How will digital books change schools? Today large digital libraries are accessible for first graders.
Every child shall have an Individual Learning Plan and their own tailor made digital library that provides them with the stored resources they need to accomplish their goals. Intellectual curiosity is a compelling motivating force in schools. From an early age children will find schools are places where learners demonstrate their achievements through products whether it is in the arts, sports or scholarly academic pursuits. I can envision a twelve year old giving a public lecture on a subject of interest to her, such as, the social behaviors of elephants or for that matter any subject of interest including political discussions. A twelve year old might give us grater insight into the current healthcare debate.
Schools will provide a wide range of online publishing materials for learners. These publications will include serious academic content, fictional stories, and even cartoons developed by learners. Student digital art galleries will all also find a place on Internet. School Internet sites will include graphic arts, animation, drama, student musical works and scholarly dissertations. .
The challenge is how to inspire, motivate, engage and empower all learners in self-directed learning experiences. When a learner is recognized for his or her good excellent works they are likely to be motivated and empowered to accomplish more rigorous learning challenges.
To illustrate how this might work might work Kirti Bien is a sixth grader in a Santa Anna, California school. Her school mentor is Mrs. Eberman, a master experienced teacher. She has four team members on her in school team and four distance team members. Her distance team members are in Alexandria, VA, Hong Kong, Paris, France, and San Marcos, Texas. The team has a technical mentor, Mr. George Simon who is a meteorologist from the U. S. Weather Bureau. They also have an online consultant from NASA that assists the team with Land Sat data and information. All team members are making weather observations and recording them in their computer data bank. They are especially interested in acid rain; therefore they are making ph measurements of water in their areas. They have access to certain NASA and NOAH data banks and resources. They plan to present their findings at the City Science Fair in the spring. They are working with the school media specialist to develop graphs and with their music teacher they are composing a theme song for their presentation.
In another class the science teacher has created a robot contest. Five person teams are to design a cardboard working robot that that can move across rough terrain, a bridge and pick up four five inch rings and place them on a rod. In addition, the robot must pick up three inch rings and drop them into a cylinder and when finished return to the starting point. The teams have fifteen minutes to carry out this “Challenge of the Rings.” Each team has the teacher mentor, but in addition they have a working engineer that consults with them on their work and design. Such additional consultants are from industry or colleges. The work of the Cardboard Engineers and the final contest are documented on DVDs developed by student teams and broadcast by the local cable company.
Another team is engaged in producing a school play, Alice in Wonderland. When Alice tells the Queen of Hearts something is impossible the Queen replies, “You must practice the impossible…. think of six impossible things before breakfast everyday and then do them.” School reform may appear impossible, but we must develop systems that engage, inspire, motivate and result in excellence that empowers individuals and the nation.
We do not need minor tinkering with schools; we need major new and informed research based new learning environments that challenge the learner’s mind to new horizons. We need learner centric schools with authentic assessment that creates life long learners. We need creative teachers capable of inspiring all children to learn.
There is nothing greater for the future of a nation than its support of its teachers
Christa McAuliffe’s famous quote, “ I have seen the future…I teach.”
was never so important as it is today. We need to think of public education as being from preschool to graduate school. We need to encourage all learners to remain in school as long as they need to reach their goals. It should always be possible to drop back into school.
As long as a learner is learning adequately it is in the interest of the nation that they have the opportunity to be all they can be.
Technology is the open door to life long learning.