Quite recently I went to a public lecture organized by Insights at Newcastle University by Sir Michael Barber. It was candidly titled “Getting every child into school and learning; why wait?” and discussed exactly that question, using Punjab in Pakistan as a specific example.
While I agree with many of the things Sir Barber said in his speech regarding the importance of non-state schools, public private partnerships, and the importance of vouchers to allow parents, and ultimately students, to choose what school children go, there was one major aspect of his view on education that I did not agree with. It comes from a more pedagogical stand-point than an International Development context, but I still wonder why that is…
One man sort-of brought up my concern at the end of the lecture by asking about the definition of ‘education’. Throughout Barber’s talk, it seemed like he knew what ‘education’ was, and that he (and the local government) were ‘giving’ students what they thought was the best education. How do they go about finding out whether students were ‘learning’? They go and test the students on their native language, english and maths proficiency.
To me, that is not education.
To me, that is the ancient definition and understanding of education that has brought us into the twenty first century, and that is now the source of so many problems.
It is the 21st century! Computers are everywhere. Test answers are easily obtainable by a quick google search! There really is no more need for learning knowledge by heart…I do agree that there are basic things such as reading and writing that are absolutely necessary for learners to learn (that doesn’t mean they have to be taught that by teachers…but that’s a different debate), but testing maths, english, and native language proficiency is not the way of testing ‘learning’.
One statement that I felt was especially depricating to those out of the formal education systems was that ‘millions of children are not learning’ and we need to get them into school, so they can start learning. While Barber did say that getting them into schools was only the first step, and actually making sure they learnt at school was the second (more important) step, he does assume that school = learning.
I personally have a very big problem with a statement like that.
As was seen in my research regarding homelessness (here, here, here) or other looking at tumblr as a learning environment, it becomes very clear very quickly that learning doesn’t just happen at school! Are you not convinced? How did you LEARN to talk? communicate? social norms? Did you learn all that at school? Probably not…
A question I had for Sir Michael Barber, but sadly didn’t get the opportunity to ask him is the following:
If you say that the private sector is able to innovate, then why doesn’t it do so? Why does it advocate traditional rote learning in the 21st century, when you have the opportunity to leapfrog western educational history right into the 21st century reality of educational research from academics such as Sugata Mitra and Steve Wheeler? Why don’t you aid developing countries overtaking the west? Why don’t we allow them to compete on a global market? Make education skills rather thank knowledge based? We know that education in the west is outdated, so why are we introducing old methods into new systems?