The movement away from force-feeding children on didactic teaching and a system of so-called education based on passing tests and exams began in Europe in the early part of the last century. Many enlightened British educators contributed to re-thinking the aims and methods of schooling throughout the last century, and achieved worldwide recognition for their efforts to make learning more interesting, more relevant and better matched to the developmental needs of children.
Sadly, Britain now lags way behind other countries in offering education that's geared towards the real needs of learners rather than the needs of academia and the prejudices of the 'traditionalists'. Here and there, however, there are signs that our more enlightened educators, entrepreneurs and even politicians are beginning to see the light.
Last year The Guardian was involved in promoting a DVD called "We Are The People We've Been Waiting For" - http://www.guardian.co.uk/we-are-the-people/welcome-to-the-real-world .
Elsewhere in the world, education systems are being redesigned along the lines of the ideas expressed in Dryden and Vos's book 'The New Learning Revolution'. The Guardian has also reported on this educational revolution.
Lucy Tobin's story in this week's Guardian Education is another piece of good news, and Professor Mitra's work will be embraced by all who care about better education and the rights of children to schools that motivate, inspire and engage their creative energies.
This work is a development of initiatives that began long before microcomputers were even invented, and were put into practice by teachers who saw the need to promote collaborative learning and to enable children to use their creativity and initiative in becoming more autonomous and self-directed learners, through which they could also develop creativity, social skills and emotional intelligence. It is NOT essentially about IT and computers, as such, although the use of the Internet offers tremendous benefits for independent lifelong learners of all ages.
Slumdog reveals learning treasures
The education project that inspired an oscar winning film is now being tried in schools in the north-east
In the most destitute slums of India, many children lack any formal education. Where schooling is available, the classes are enormous, spanning young and older pupils and offering little one-to-one attention. It's an unlikely source of inspiration for a teaching method to boost attainment, self-confidence and behaviour in Britain's classrooms. But, then again, Professor Sugata Mitra has never been one to follow established educational philosophy.
It's a year since Education Guardian exclusively reported Mitra's Hole In The Wall learning project, in which he installed computers with internet connection in Delhi slums for local children to discover. He found that the children began to teach themselves English, computing and maths, just a month after starting to use the PCs. The project inspired Vikas Swarup's Q&A, the novel that became the film Slumdog Millionaire.
Like the film, Mitra's project has since found massive success: there are more than 500 PCs in walls across India and Africa. Now, as professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, Mitra is turning his eye to Britain. Working with eight- to 12-year-olds at schools across Tyneside, he is helping them to use computers to carry out "self-activated learning" in the classroom.
"Having watched hundreds of Indian children learning without teachers at the Hole In The Wall computers, it became obvious that all children can work by themselves, if they want to," Mitra says.
"Most British children grow up with the internet and have the means to learn what they want in minutes, and this challenges the traditional idea of school being about learning things that will come in handy in the future. They become disengaged."
Mitra is not alone in noticing this problem. John Dunford, head of the Association of School and College Leaders, last week told the group's annual conference that computer games and websites have made children impatient and harder to motivate.
But Mitra thinks he has found a solution, with Hole In The Wall. "It proved that if you encourage individual learning, and give children interesting questions to look into independently, the learning process is sparked by curiosity."
Mitra asks students to divide into small groups to answer GCSE-level science questions on topics such as how animals adapt to their environments, and how the human body works. The children can change groups at any time, look at what other groups are doing, chat and freely use computers. The effects, as recorded by the teachers, are astonishing.
"If you give children time to investigate an answer, it's surprising what they can learn," Mitra says. "Instead of guessing, they do their own research, and acquire an advanced, university-style of learning. The children have a common goal, and bounce ideas off each other."
Emma Crawley, a year 4 class teacher at St Aidan's, confirms the scheme's success. "I'd seen footage of children using the computers in India," she says. "The children were learning things far beyond their years in a short time, without a teacher. It made me think we should give it a go here."
Perhaps because it seems like fun, the knowledge seems to stick. Three months after one session, Crawley gave the children a surprise test. "I was shocked when I marked the papers: they had all remembered everything, even though the test was a surprise."
Mitra acknowledges the well publicised dangers of the internet, but tackles the problem in the same way as in India. "In the slums, I put the computers in highly visible places. If using a computer is public, there's very little danger of children visiting inappropriate sites. Because they are working together in groups, on screens that everyone can easily see, the children stick to the task in hand."
He hopes to develop the project so that all schools will put autonomous learning in the timetable. "It could be a whole new way of schooling and will help people who have been excluded, or can't attend school, or are just struggling with homework," Mitra says. "Technology has given children the potential to be far more independent at learning, and we should embrace that."
Crawley now uses the method every time she introduces a new science topic to her class. To other teachers she advises: "You have to let go a bit and trust the children. At first, they get excited and move around a lot, and noise levels rise, but a calm atmosphere will develop."
In the Letters section underneath the above article is a letter from Michael Rosen -
Ofsted is the problem
Rachel Williams reported that one in seven secondary schools inspected last term were graded inadequate by Ofsted under its new regime. A comment from our website:
Ofsted is part of the problem and not part of the solution. Ofsted is predicated on the Henry VIII principle of government and social life. If you don't like it, chop its head off. The repeated utterances of education ministers in league with Ofsted directors are of a kind: education can be improved by making loud aggressive noises about failing schools and failing teachers.
What is the philosophy behind this? That telling people they're crap improves them? After more than a decade of this approach, where's the evidence that this kind of approach gets results?
I would suggest that if all the time, money and effort expended on this useless and painful way of going on had been expended instead in assisting teachers and schools, and facilitating dialogue between the most experienced, successful teachers and the least experienced, weakest teachers, we would have progressed enormously.
Ofsted is merely the police force that enforces this state of affairs.
What we then end up with is a state of affairs which is summed up in this Observer piece:
Sacking of school headteachers 'rises by 75%'
Tougher line adopted on heads who struggle to raise exam results, claims ASCL general secretary
by Jessica Shepherd
Record numbers of headteachers were sacked last year for failing to boost their schools' GCSE grades, it will be claimed today.
At least 163 heads or their deputies were fired in 2009 – 75% more than in 2007, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) will reveal at its annual conference in London.
Ministers and local authorities are adopting a tougher line on heads who struggle to raise exam results, John Dunford, the association's general secretary, will say, adding that other heads have been told to quit even if exam results have improved, because their schools have turned into academies and sponsors want new leaders.
The revelation on Friday that the number of schools judged to be "inadequate" has almost doubled in the last six months to one in 13 will further fuel the rise in sackings, Dunford told the Observer. Schools placed in this category are put in emergency "special measures" and risk being reopened as academies under new leadership.
Dunford said: "We have lost a lot of talented schools' leaders who are unlikely to return to another headship after such a bruising experience. When a school is put in special measures, the local authority is under pressure from the government to be seen to be taking action and this could lead to a head being sacked. Some local authorities think sacking a few headteachers is evidence that they are vigilant and active in school improvement."
Meanwhile, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, promised heads the freedom to "transform" the national curriculum if his party came to power.
Speaking at the ASCL conference, Clegg said: "We will allow teachers to innovate for the good of their pupils. We will cut the reins and expect you to reinvent and transform the curriculum. The majority of what you teach will be at your discretion."
Dr Maya Angelou describes herself as a teacher and a writer. She was on Sky Arts 1 this week.
I've said some pretty harsh things about Sky and the Murdoch empire in my time, but I'm a real fan of Sky Arts 1. The quality of their programmes is often superb, and the fact that they're uninterrupted by adverts is . . . unbelievable.
Robert Redford is the Executive Producer of a series called Iconoclasts. In this week's programme there was a filmed meeting between Dr Angelou and a young black comedian called Dave Chappelle.
"You have to develop courage - the most important of all the virtues - because without courage you can't practice the other virtues."
"If you're not angry . . . you're either a stone or you're too sick to be angry. But don't be bitter."
"Human beings are more alike than we're unalike."
"A person who's well raised knows to respect the elders, even if they disagree with them. Just for having survived."
And talking of elders . . .
Kathlyn Hotynski, writing in the New York Times, says,
Aging, and Still Thriving
The specter of aging is ominous: wrinkles, memory loss, mortality. But fears of the inevitable can obscure the upside of getting older: being at the top of your game. As baby boomers age, many of them are realizing that life after retirement is not merely a long, slow decline. There is still wisdom to be gained, work to be done and adventure to be had.
Work keeps many baby boomers going. Some workers 55 and older are even seeking out new careers.
Others are taking decades worth of skills and contacts and striking out on their own. The number of selfemployed Americans ages 55 to 64 climbed 52 percent from 2000 to 2007, according to the federal Small Business Administration. Cinde Dolphin started her own marketing firm at 55 . “I’m having a ball,” she told The Times. “I can set up my own hours and work schedule, and do other things I enjoy.”
New research shows the mind keeps developing into late adulthood. “The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture,” Barbara Strauch wrote in The Times. “If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.”
Another benefit of the leisure years is having time to travel . . .
“This is an emerging market phenomenon based on tens of millions of longer-lived men and women with more youth vitality than ever imagined,” Ken Dychtwald, a psychologist and author who has written widely about aging, told Kirk Johnson of The Times.
Who the fuck is Jude Law? Some kind of dipshit actor? He was on Jon Stewart's Daily Show last night. Big mistake, Jon! Not interesting. Not funny. Just promoting his latest film, which shall remain nameless.
JS asked him whether people in Britain were happy with the NHS. About 60%, said JL. Rubbish! How would he know anyway?
JS asked him whether doctors in Britain were happy with the NHS. No, said Jude. Why not? They're not well paid, and they have to work very long hours.
Fucking idiot. Anyone who knows even a little about doctors knows that since their last contract and pay award they're, if anything, OVERpaid. £100,000+ per year for being a GP is NOT underpaid. And they can now even opt out of doing home visits.
Here's a guy being given an opening to say something positive about a National health service, and the ignorant tit talks complete crap.