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The characteristics of optimal education systems within a sustainable postcapitalist paradigm. Part four.

Curricula; learning by interest not batch number

The state mandated education systems which emerged in the post industrialisation period had an overly academic bias and failed to deliver quality education to huge swathes of the children and young adults in their systems. This was in part because of its poor understanding of the nature of intelligence. Students were required to bend themselves to the system with no regard to what their individual mediums might have been. Ken Robinson makes this observation, delivered at a speech to the Royal Society of Arts, of the origins of today’s education systems.

“I believe we have a system of education that is modelled on the interests of industrialism and in the image of it. I’ll give you a couple of examples. Schools are still pretty much organised on factory lines; ringing bells, separate facilities, specialised into separate subjects. We still educate children by batches; we put them through the system by age group – why do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are? It’s like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture. Well I know kids who are much better than other kids at the same age in different disciplines or at different times of the day, or better in smaller groups than larger groups, or sometimes they want to be on their own. If you’re interested in the model of learning you don’t start with this production line mentality”.[i]

To reverse the trend of overly prescriptive curricula focusing on a narrow set of intelligences and to develop the potential of all students we must have, amongst other changes, a broad optional curriculum and a very limited compulsory curriculum. In the UK, and indeed the majority of western nations in this period and other nations in the post WW II era, several hours maths a week was compulsory for all students. Why? Of course a knowledge of the twelve times table, simple mental arithmetic and some basic statistics are incredibly useful tools on a daily or weekly basis, but much of the rest of the compulsory maths curriculum is rarely used by most people in their daily lives. For some students, myself included, maths is/was an absolute joy (intrinsic motivation), but for many others it is a chore (no motivation or extrinsically motivated to the extent that they understand passing rather than failing an exam may be more useful to them in the future) and not a productive use of their time.

I’m not suggesting that we should stop teaching maths altogether, merely that 400-500 hours of classroom time from age 11-16 is, for many students, a substantial waste of time and that the basics they need might be covered in 100-200 hours of class time or less, provided that the classroom conditions are favourable, in which case the remaining hours would be spent more productively in some other activity. If they don’t wish to study maths and are going to be disruptive as a result, which is often the case with students who are forced to study subjects they have little interest in or aptitude for, or with a dull / vindictive / indifferent teacher, then surely their time and the time of those who would be inconvenienced by their disruptive behaviour, would be better spent doing something they are interested in. They might be interested in fixing cars, playing guitar, doing origami, gymnastics or something else, but let them do that which will allow them to find their medium. And for those who wish to study maths let them do so in a smaller class, with far fewer disruptive students and thus make more progress in the time available to them.

In Creative Schools: Revolutionising Education from the ground up Robinson makes this observation on the organic nature of schools.

“…education is best seen not as an industrial system but as an organic one. More specifically, it is what is known as a “complex, adaptive system”…living systems like plants, animals and people are not only complicated , they are complex (sic). In a living organism, all the apparently separate systems that compose it are intimately related and depend on each other for the health of the organism as a whole…Living systems also adapt and evolve. They have a dynamic (sic) and synergistic relationship with their physical environment.”

[ii]

Thus the whole philosophy of education as industrial process must be discarded and the newer idea of education as organic system must be inculcated in educators, learners and society. The old thought process, still common to politicians whose primary concern is young people are ‘off-the-streets’, is no longer fit for purpose. The newer concept of education as an organic system must become the new norm.

[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

[ii]  Op Cit. Robinson and Aronica P. 62

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