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Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Future of Education... ?

Edutopia had an interview with Alvin Toffler, a well-known futurist and author of the revolutionary book Future Shock. In the interview, Toffler discusses some radical ideas about the current state and structure of education. He proposes a radical shift in the public education system - one that would be a herculean undertaking, given that change in education is always met with resistance and hesitation. If a change is made and the theory isn't sound, one or more generations of children can be affected.

While a complete, one-shot overhaul is highly unlikely and could certainly be detrimental, many of the ideas proposed are starting to make their way to the forefront of education reform thinking. Here's my take on them:

How does the 24/7 internet change education? Many classroom teachers still cling to the notion that the classroom is the primary source of learning, that teachers are the primary disseminators of information, and that students must be told what to learn through lesson plans and state standards. Does classroom teaching need to have such an emphasis on the study of facts, when most (or all) of those facts are quickly available at one's fingertips? Students have more opportunity now than ever before in history to become self-guided learners - perhaps education needs to focus more on how to learn, rather than what.

With distance learning and content management systems like Moodle, the classroom no longer needs to be a physical location.

The current compulsory education model was designed for an industrial society - does that apply any longer? While some might argue that the school day mirrors the work day of a larger percentage of the working population, is it necessary for all students to attend school on the same schedule? Barring scheduling issues due to transportation, extended days may become a more viable option for students who are invested in their education, by taking opportunities to study additional interests outside their normal course of study. More and more students are working to support themselves or even their families - how do we integrate that into the school day?

How much "general education" do students need, compared to focusing on what they love? Should we revisit the age at which students can specialize in what they study? Should students be able to choose a major in high school as well as in college?

Does this lend credence to the idea of home schooling? Home schooling gives students an opportunity to study more of what interests them, and even subjects that don't in a fashion that does interest them. Home-school teachers and parents are able to take more liberties with what and how they teach, as long as students are still meeting the state requirements. Is it because they have a smaller "class size" and more personal attention, or can innovative teaching methods really be effective?

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