When I was at school, some 30 years ago, it was all about sitting quietly at desks with chewing gum under them and listening while the teacher talked. Occasionally we’d copy stuff down and sometimes there would be exercises to do.
The most important thing, when it came to exams, was ramming facts into our brains in such a way that they could be retrieved when necessary.
There was a notion that acknowledged that while the names of the intimate parts of plants were unlikely to feature in my adult life, the fact I had at one time learned them was somehow important.
Today, if I wanted to know my stigma from my anther I’ll google it from a device I have beside me all the time and I’ll know the answer in approximately 15 seconds. It doesn’t seem to me that there was ever any point in cramming the knowledge in my head all those years ago.
Yet, even now, pupils across the country spend much of the time before their exams shoving statistics, dates and names into their heads for the sole purpose of proving the fact onto the exam paper. Is this really the best way to do things?
Without doubt children need teachers who know more than them on any given subject, they need a curriculum that offers a balanced diet of things they’ll need in later life, and there must be a system of measuring all of this. However…
The internet offers more opportunities for learning than ever before. Knowledge – and those with the experience and wisdom to bring that knowledge to life – are available to anyone with the resources to seek them out.
And those resources are so accessible. A smartphone or a laptop and you can be linked to a university lecture online. A PC or a tablet and you can hear the latest TED talk or join an expert led forum in a matter of minutes.
Over the last few years when I’ve wanted to learn something I’ve begun by googling. Whether it was how to change a bike tyre, setting up a URL for my blog, hints on creating the perfect cake, suggestions for Powerpoint presentations or the ability to take well-compose digital photos, my first port of call has been the internet.
In some instances, I needed more than just the extensive resources online and I’ve found a real – person to teach me… invariably through a search engine.
The point is that with motivation and enthusiasm to learn the information and teaching is fairly easy to find and the whole exercise, while not exactly painless, is considerably easier than swotting for exams.
Obviously you can’t just leave children with a lot of laptops for six years and expect them to come out educated at the end. That way the next generation would be experts in Minecraft and Taylor Swift’s love life, but, perhaps, little else.
Instead, shouldn’t the focus in classrooms be on motivating and enthusing pupils to do their own learning? Inspiring them with the reasons for discovering the answers? Facilitating their research and finding new ways for them to understand how the world works? Helping them to collaborate and find experts to reach their goals?
More importantly it’s time the educational establishment realised that much of what is established has changed lately and they must too. Have a look how the world works and what works in the world and apply it to teaching and learning?
The only thing that hasn’t moved on, apparently, is the fact that there is still chewing gum under the furniture in school. Maybe we should google or ask in a forum for a solution to that one…