There has been a lot of discussion recently about the personalisation of education. The sticking point is that most education is publicly funded, the state has a major stake in how it’s conducted, and therefore dictates what should be taught in schools. […] by Steve Wheeler
There has been a lot of discussion recently about the personalisation of education. The sticking point is that most education is publicly funded, the state has a major stake in how it’s conducted, and therefore dictates what should be taught in schools. Because of lack of space, time and resources (you will always have this problem when the state intervenes) there is little latitude for personalised approaches and creativity is stifled. Every child gets the same content, and every child is tested in the same, standardised way. The result: children become disenfranchised and demotivated, teachers are exhausted and demoralised, schools are positioned unfairly in league tables, and governments measure success not through human achievement or creativity, but through cold, hard statistics. This is universal education, and if one size does not fit all … tough. Shame no-one has told the powers that be that universal education is unachievable.
Ivan Illich railed against this mindset way back in 1970 in his anarchical, visionary critique of the school system. In Deschooling Society, Illich called for personal learning through informal learning networks, and rejected the funnelling approach of mass, unidirectional, instructivist education systems. More recently, powerful modern day visionaries such as Stephen Heppell and Sir Ken Robinson are saying the same thing. They ask how we can sustain a factory model of education ‘production’, where children are ‘batch processed’ according to their age groups. It’s obvious to any teacher or parent that children develop at different rates, and all have different talents and interests. I suppose we have Jean Piaget and his fellow ‘stage theory’ psychologists to thank for that kind of constrained thinking.
In their current configuration, says Robinson, most schools kill creativity. The picture above was taken in 1909. If those students could jump into a time machine and be transported a century or so forward to 2011, what would they be amazed by? Jumbo jets, motorways? Satellites and HD television? The internet, medical science? Mobile phones and credit cards? They wouldn’t recognise any of those. One thing they would almost certainly recognise though, would be the school classroom. It has been largely bypassed by the last century of progress, because institutions are very hard to change.
Heppell points out that creativity could be encouraged and personal learning achieved through the use of handheld technologies such as mobile phones. When they use these tools, he says, children are in their element. When they walk into the classroom, they are told to switch off all devices, and in doing so, the school switches off the child too. Gaming consoles could also be used to personalise learning, engaging children in playful learning, something which Heppell strongly advocates. But ultimately, teachers have a vast array of personal learning resources at their disposal thanks to the social web. Students must choose their own personal tools – if they have tools imposed upon them there is little scope for personalisation. Schools are now beginning to incorporate some social media into their lessons and even allowing children to use mobile and handheld technologies during lessons. It’s starting, but it’s slow progress. If students are shown a range of tools and then allowed to choose which ones they would like to use, if they are allowed to create their own personal webs and choose their own connections, we might begin to see some very personal learning taking place in our schools.
This post was first published on August 8, 2011.
Phi Beta Iota: In the USA, education, intelligence, and research are all stupid–fragmented, regimented, isolated, incoherent. It can all be fixed by empowering one dynamic team within a national Open Source Agency. Absent that kind of radical opening, the next four years in the USA are going to be among the darkest in its history.