Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Taking the initiative

I wrote a while back of learned helplessness when it comes to education and training. We've been conditioned into believing that the only way to learn new skills is to go on a course lead by a teacher and generally help in some kind of classroom at assigned times. Many wait in vain for the opportunity to go on a course instead of going out and finding the required knowledge and people who can help. We're stuck in a classroom mentality and are not equipped to take responsibility for our own learning.

This is the theme of an excellent article by Ewan McIntosh in the Huffington Post, Schools are churning out the unemployable. The traditional approach to education stresses dependence on teachers, syllabus and assessment instead of fostering independence, initiative, ability to network and innovative thinking. These are the qualities required in the business world but are often, according to McIntosh, sadly lacking in school leavers and graduates.

" ... everything being done to formal schooling by the political classes in America and England runs against what business actually requires: self-starting, creative, entrepreneurial youngsters. I realize that this approach alone isn't a savior of schooling, and that there are many other tactics as well as strategic approaches that help move us away from a factory model to a studio model of learning. But the conversation that I find the hardest is with those who don't even see that the model is no longer effective, who believe that "it was good enough for me so..."...."

Of course, many schools and universities are fostering these skills and are offering students much more freedom to innovate and create. However the mainstream has not caught up yet and we are still often bogged down in vote-winning back-to-basics campaigns and the illusory league tables of result-oriented education. Tasks that are set simply for the teacher to grade and hand back are artificial and not taken seriously by many students. If the tasks are put out in public view or are actually used by others in real work situations you get a much higher level of motivation and enthusiasm. Letting students contribute for real sharpens concentration and prepares them for the future.

In conclusion McIntosh asks if the system is so broken that we will need to replace it or whether we just need to do a renovation job.

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