The 150 year Old Farce!

There is no denying I like to go on a bit of a rant every now and then, and as such I thought it would be a nice little touch to put them on our blog, thus begins the CEO Soapbox series, and in particular this piece on the standardized education system.

Obviously, one thing that is incredibly important to me, is education. By education, I mean the that in the broadest term possible.

Wikipedia states:

Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits. Educational methods include storytelling, discussion, teaching, training, and directed research. Education frequently takes place under the guidance of educators, but learners may also educate themselves.”

Which I think is a great summary, because education doesn’t just happen in school/college/university etc. The acquisition of knowledge happens all around us, throughout our lives, and most often it happens without a standardised path, or formal setting. That’s the beauty of it. As humans, we’re sponges for information and knowledge and with an open mind, there is no end to what you can take in.

But isn’t education more than that?

I believe when you have kids, too, this became more apparent to me, personally. We moved from the UK over to France and the kids went from zero French speaking to fluent in a couple of years. Their ability to do this was amazing to see. Did they have extra teaching? No, they went to a fully French speaking school and learnt by being immersed in the language; speaking to friends etc. helped a lot with them.

A flipside to the brilliance of seeing them take on this new knowledge, was to see another school system as well. Where you’re taught to repeat things until you know them, recite texts, and be able to write down what the teacher says with no errors. Everyone does the same thing, practices which are repeated through the years.

When I was going over the work that my kids were doing, and then taking a step back to look at the role of the formal education system in the world, which is to prepare the younger generation to be ready for the next phase of life into adulthood. (A key part of this being teaching them how to do a number of things, such as problem solving and critical thinking.) It made me ponder…

Where did it all go wrong with formal education?

Rewind the clock 150 years, to the creation of the standardized education system. It was the industrial revolution and industry was booming. The factories were everywhere, and many employees filled each and every one of them.

One thing was missing though, and this was a standard practice for defined processes, when it came to the work within the factory, until it was introduced. You see, efficiency was the key to operations and without a defined process, money was lost. Although this was very much needed at the time, it led to averaganarism – the age of average in the workplace. Why was this? Simply because, when you have a defined process on how to do anything, you just want someone to be able to do that. You want the average person. You don’t want anyone to be too quick, working better or faster than anyone else, as this would affect the overall process.

This worked though. It really worked. The factories were incredibly efficient and output was up considerably.

The beginning of standardization & the start of standardized education was born…

So how did this affect education? Well, obviously people were needed in these roles. You wanted people to be able to do the roles, nothing more nothing less. It was at this point where it was identified that two sets of people were required. The doers and the managers, and they wanted to identify this as early on as possible. This led to the introduction of a standardized education system, to ensure that the same level was given to everyone. The average. Students were grouped, and split into age groups and given the same standard content to create the average.

While this was great for the role of the industrial revolution in the world as we know it today, it was, in my mind, one of the worst things for education that could have been done and run with.

That is a bold statement, I know.

Yet, the fact that this is still the system that’s in place now, over 100 years later, when the world, industry, technology and life in general is a completely different picture to the times back then, is ludicrous! We reward, teach to and encourage an arbitrary average, rather than reward creativity, or individuality. Something that is integral for the world of today and tomorrow.

How can we change this though?

We still require the doers in life, but that doesn’t mean we should chastise failure and teach to test, rolling out clones of averagely educated individuals. Yet, we need to also ensure that everyone comes out of education, educated to a certain standard. Which is why I think there is the age old struggle in how to change this system of our education. Not to mention that this is worldwide. This is no overnight flip of a switch.

There are many things that we are starting to see, that is encouraging that change is possible. Like I said you can’t make a large change overnight, but for example in the Higher Ed space; the notion of micro credentials that you can take to build up the full degree syllabus, rather than the previous set needed classes, gives the freedom back to the student to pick the most relevant topics to their expectations with their degree. Mastery is another way we’re seeing students graded, which again, is something that helps us understand if students have gained the much needed knowledge in that subject.

On top of this education is becoming more accessible. We’re able to take courses on anything, from the comfort of wherever we happen to be with a computer or mobile device. Which is obviously fantastic to start and something that we here at emotuit love, yet it’s also important to understand the audience so we can create the best content we can. (I had to bring it full circle back to emotuit slightly…)

What are WE doing?

I think the keys in change are understanding students as individuals and not against an average. Personal data points, and enough data points, rather than comparisons to others. End the pass/fail one off teaching to test mentality. Break the learning experience down, so that students can personalize their learning experience, and with all of the understanding we have about students, we can personalize it for you. Stop the assumption that every student is the same, and that’s OK. Put in practice project based learning, starting in K-12. It’s a key to learning outcomes, critical thinking and problem solving. Use technology to help us make the change, but embrace standards so that all of this technology can ACTUALLY help us, and not just produce a confusing noise in this space.

It won’t happen overnight, but if there are enough people making small changes, it will make a difference.

I welcome your comments, on this subject or future topics for the series.