The Propagation of Learning Part 6

This is the sixth and final part of Paul Henderson’s Think Piece. Part 5 is within this blog and the previous parts can be obtained from our main website and the e-briefing downloads. During the updating of our website content a complete download copy will be available on the site 

Huge positive benefits waiting to be discovered

Ready meal or home cooked original, smoking or non-smoking, incarceration or emancipation, mismatched environment or natural habitat; it seems that personalised learning does seem to be the obvious choice but the question is how to implement that choice. Some say private schooling is the answer but, in terms of achieving a personalised learning environment, the disadvantages of their more uniformed and regimented ethos tends to outweigh the advantages of their smaller class sizes with the overall outcome being an even poorer personalised learning environment than the state system. There is currently a lot of thinking going on into creating environments that facilitate true personalised learning. Billions are being spent on new schools and resources at this point in time by the government and public private partnerships but the most significant and exciting change about to happen in education may well come not from the top down but from the ground up. It has often been said that we live in an ‘information rich’ society but up until recently children’s direct access to information has been limited. This is changing and within 3 or 4 years high end ‘iPhone’ style devices will be affordable to the masses. The majority of kids already have iPods and mobile phones and some have PCs but when all media functionality converges in one portable and easily affordable gadget then every child will have access to any part of all human knowledge within a few clicks. iPods have changed the way kids listen to music with the overwhelming preference being for personalised play lists over the institutionally controlled Radio 1 play list. Music is no longer controlled, distributed and promoted by large institutional organizations and large record companies, caught off balance, have to diversify to survive. View on demand looks like doing the same for TV; websites like youtube are demonstrating the massive demand for personalised viewing. These changes all came about from the ground up because the enabling technology became ubiquitous. Within the next 4 years high end ‘iPhone’ styled gadgets will be in the hands of every child, enabling personalised learning for all. You can ask a gadget like this any question you like whenever you like and get an immediate answer from a world-renowned pivotal source. Why go through a middleman when you can learn direct from the source? This will effectively take education out the hands of institutional control. Of course not everybody will learn at home and schools will slowly evolve into learning centres as outlined by the author Roland Meighan in his book ‘The Next Learning System’. These exciting prospects are all for the future but fortunately there is a way to benefit from personalised learning right now.

There is a way to educate children that was pioneered about 30 years ago, now well established and has consistently produced significantly above average results academically, socially and psychologically. It allows the child to develop at their own pace and actively explore what interests and inspires them. If a particular profession interests them they can take as much time finding out about it as they please including talking with and perhaps volunteering to work or contribute in some way to a leading practitioners endeavours. Whatever interests or inspires them, they may be able to go straight to the source by contacting individuals who share the same interest or perhaps are leaders in their field. They may arrange field trips to university research departments, government establishments, commercial operations, businesses, exhibitions, museums, visitor attractions etc at off peak times (when every one else is at school!), all the time making personal connections through what interests them and sharing that interest with mentoring aficionados or role models whether its pursuing a hobby, passing interest, or future career. All the time their self-motivation is at play and if they need to pass exams to achieve their goal then they can and do achieve excellent results because the accumulation of academic credits always serves their purpose. Another spin off is that they don’t have to suffer the results of the promotion of materialistic consumerism and celebrity culture as one of the few motivational springboards left in a worn out school teacher’s bag of tricks nor the ‘ned’ culture prevalent in most school playgrounds.

It is easy to find out more about the huge benefits millions of families throughout the world have experienced over the last 30 years due to the vast networks and communities that have built up around what was once the best-kept secret in education. The cat is out the bag and it is known as home based education, a perfectly natural, legal and successful educational option that any parent and child can explore and the only way at present to experience true personalised learning. The parent does not need to be a qualified teacher in fact some have said that such a qualification could possibly be detrimental and all research has shown that it can be done and in fact is predominantly done in the UK by less well off families.

Of course the government would be horrified if a high percentage of parents home educated because of the perceived implications to the economy and social cohesion. At present there is a concern about being able to compete globally with other countries economically and the future impact of ‘the China effect’. More and more pressure is being put on creating double income families with babies being put into full time nursery care at six months. Recently the idea of extending the school leaving age to 18 was put forward. The idea is to have kids institutionalised from six months to 18 years, i.e. their entire childhood is run according to state regulated guidelines. With the boom in house prices, a double or sometimes triple average income is required just to keep a roof over your head (is that not more indicative of a third world country than a super power?). This is all perceived as good news for the economy as well as the recent wave of immigrants from Eastern Europe. However the real advantage that the UK has over emerging economic super powers is that we still have a more technologically advanced society. We will never compete on industrial mass manufacture that requires armies of cheap compliant labour, but that is precisely the 150 year old Prussian educational ideology that our current school system is based on. What we desperately need is self directed, independently motivated go getters with agile minds and a flexible approach to lifelong learning, not millions of disengaged, disillusioned teenagers, resigned to the fact that they will have to work all hours in a banal job just to keep a roof over their heads. As far as social cohesion is concerned, it is well known that criminals refine their activities in Prison. When multitudes of disaffected youths are locked together in any institution, especially when it is age segregated, it acts as a catalyst towards anti social behaviour, as the only social skills that are picked up are from their socially immature peer group. A far stronger social cohesion would be nurtured by youths following their interests and pursuits with others of like mind, irrespective of age and sharing a common purpose. Of course home based education would not suit most families and this is why there is an urgent need to implement ‘The Next Learning System’ ASAP.

It is a parent’s and no one else’s legal duty to provide an education for their children either by sending them to school or by other means. While research findings seem to favour a more personal approach to learning, these are purely statistically guided trends and can never relate to any individual. It may well be that the best option for a family is school based education despite evidence to the contrary and if this is their chosen option then that decision should be respected. Since the nature of learning has proven to be very personal, the only way to truly know what form of education is best for a child is to educate him/her traditionally then go back in time and educate him/her alternatively, which of course is impossible. The option chosen by parents for their child’s education, whether its school or otherwise, is therefore a leap of faith, which most people are not used to in this mostly secular country. There is therefore a parallel between people’s choice of education and of religion. Since no one is expected to justify their choice of religion, the same should be true of their choice of education. While every parent should see it as important to weigh up the pros and cons of their various educational options and their consequences for establishing a happily balanced family life, their final choice is a totally personal decision and should be respected as such irrespective of what is seen as culturally ‘normal’.

Education and religion are generally thought to be for the greater good but both have shown to be harmful when extremist dogma enters into the picture. In 1616 the Church condemned Galileo as a heretic for advocating the Copernican view that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not the other way round. In a speech in October 1992, Pope John Paul II finally acknowledged the Church’s official’s error in this matter – better late than never! Lets hope it doesn’t take as long for our current dogmatic educational institutions to realise that education revolves around the learner and not the other way round. The scientific evidence showing that school as it stands today is neither the best environment for nurturing academic, social, emotional and psychological development nor future career fulfilment cannot be ignored forever. 

Of course extremist dogma can also exist when holding fanatically to a particular theory or philosophy of alternative learning. Is limitless autonomy not self-limiting? Could a contrived strictly non-coercive learning environment not only exist within coerced parameters? Where do you draw the line between compulsion and coercion? If a teacher is invited to teach at a mutually agreed time then that introduces a timetable. Any kind of timetabled teaching cannot be described purely as invited teaching, since the learner may not be in the mood to learn what’s to be taught by the appointed time, so can there ever be such a thing as professional invited teaching? All growth achieved through intrinsically motivated learning is fuelled by extrinsic sources so why not increase those extrinsic sources through school attendance? Are any of the home-based educational philosophies any more natural than school when followed fanatically to the extreme?

It seems that there will never be a ‘Grand Unified Theory’ of education and the most effective educational path is a unique recipe for every individual; a good dollop of autonomous learning here, a splash of structure there, a bit of school for some, home and community for others, a sprinkle of this and a dash of that and the more their unique flavours are enhanced then the more likely it will be that the potential of our favourite little culinary delights will be fulfilled.  The problem at the moment is that school-based education tends to be all or nothing, the knock on polarizing consequence being that home based education ends up being all or nothing too; the overall effect of which diminishes both educational environments. If these two opposite ends of the educational spectrum were merged, each would augment the other from a personalised perspective by offering the learner more choice of inspirational sources. Hopefully we are on a path to a far more flexible learning environment whereby learners can take the good stuff from school (which inevitably would be different for each learner) and leave the bad. Hopefully one day all sources of learning will be available at all times for all ages to all learners, whether it is school, home, learning centre, community, or a unique mixture tailored to every learner’s needs.

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