Once again a Nobel Prize has been rewarded to someone who was once labeled by school as not fit for science. -How may times haven’t we heard the story about a great entrepreneur, leader, artist or scientist who was stamped by school as ”unsuitable”, ”lacking talent”, ”not fit for”… The usual discussion that to follows goes like this: schools are out of touch, ignorant teachers are. I believe that this in general is untrue and that these stories stem from something else.
Our educational systems have the more or less explicit mandate to separate the wheat from the chaff, to select and to ”enrich” talent and, with a supposed good intent, advise individuals who are considered lacking in talent or inclination to make choices in life that are better suited for their supposed abilities. The problem is that educational systems have done a very poor job at this and there is a good reason for that: it can’t be done. There is no chance that anyone could predict or forecast what a human being might be able to achieve in 5-10-50 years.
What if we, as an alternative to selection and grading, considered some other options for defining output i schools. Just one suggestion to start with (others will follow in coming blogs):
#1 Exit velocity: what would happen if every school managed to increase the desire to learn, if every student left school with even more drive to improve and strive for excellence? With this view on output it’s not only the relative “level” of a student’s knowledge and skill that matters, more important is “speed” and “direction”, the ambition, motivation to move on. Instead of selecting which students who are fit for higher academic studies by grading them, optimise teaching and learning in order to make as many as possible hungry for higher studies. -Wouldn’t that increase the quality in the whole system?! -Credit to Troed Troedsson who came up with the idea of exit velocity, love it!
A real game changer is when schools define their purpose or output in a broader context (it’s about learning, personal development etc, not only ”knowledge”) and in a longer perspective (the importance of education is determined by its value in the long run, by its worth in your life). David Perkins has brilliantly defined this as ”Lifeworthiness”. I believe that these schools will nurture both new Marie Curies as well as next generation of brilliant professionals in any other field.
I really believe that we could have Nobel laureates all around, if we by that meant that more people thru education found paths that developed their true potential. One step in that direction would be to look more closely how we define output. I don’t think that a school with an idea of exit velocity would have discouraged the young John Gurdon.
*All my friends are Nobel laureates is a paraphrase on one the title of one of my all time favourite books. Buy or borrow and read!
Why should students and pupils wear blindfolds? In another blog i mentioned the strange fact that education (or at least teaching in schools) many times is done in an blindfold-fashion: students are supposed to solve tasks without aids we otherwise use or ”study” in situations that are designed to practice skills in a way that is totally unique to schools. Since I mentioned this I have encountered it many more times (as so often happens when you get engaged in something).
- A boy is sitting in school by his computer trying to write a text and is having troubles with his spelling. A guest asks the boy if he couldn’t use Google translate or the spell check in the computer. The boy quickly replies that it’s not allowed.
- A girl is doing her homework on a list of concepts in social-science: ”parliament”, ”freedom of speech”, ”electoral system”. All of the concepts are supposed to be explained by reading a number of texts where the concepts are presented. When presented with the opportunity with to discuss the concepts with her father, the university scholar, she replies ”It would only complicate things, it’s the definitions in the textbook they’re after”
- A class is doing a test in electromagnetics, individual tests, students i rows with formularies as their only support.
We are like a desert tribe used to living in a water scarce environment who suddenly find themselves in a situation where there is an abundance of water, they continue to solve problems as if water still was a precious commodity even when it’s not. -One of the pre-conditions of education has been the fact that information and ”knowledge” is scarce and hard to come by and we continue to educate and teach as if it still was. I think the best proof of this is that we still educate our kids as if they will have to memorize large parts of the things they learn in order to repeat or recall further down the road. What we should encourage is the ability to analyse, synthesize, communicate, create… rather than than the ability to store information. It is important to improve our memory but there are far more efficient techniques for that, it’s a learning skill in itself.
Some schools and many teachers have managed to make the transition and turn the concept upside down. They use all available aids at all times, in all situations and develop the methods of evaluating and assessment to fit this. It’s in fact a clever way to develop pedagogy, when we encourage open source learning we also encourage more qualified learning situations where relevant skills are required. It’s a positive approach and it’s a respectful one where we try to develop real life skills rather than school skills.