With digital learning and the rise of the independent software developer there are some pretty interesting products available today. But should you be keeping up with these alternatives to your existing learning? And, more importantly, is the long term cost worth it?
What Is a Good School?
By everything we know about learning, we can make generalisations about the kind of education we would like to get. If the focus is on ‘learning for knowledge’, we will have people who are very good at making a fast buck by playing Candy Crush on their phones; and that will all be fine. However, if the focus is on teaching and learning for fulfilment of a deep purpose – our education institutions need to have a distinct identity and a set of practices that can be replicated across the world. At the core of a successful school, we often see a set of talents and teaching methodologies that are very difficult to replicate, even with a certain level of access to and influence on high quality education.
Take a good teacher as an example. What characteristics do we value when we think of a good teacher? Well, as Céline Tassi points out, a good teacher has to be able to act across many domains of their time, because we actually learn more from people who have different subjects and skills in life. A good teacher does not worry about ‘no more class’ or ‘civics class’; they look after every aspect of a student’s learning. They notice where a student is having problems with a particular area of maths or a problem with writing a term paper; they deal with that in their class in a way that breaks down the problems into their pieces and suggests way forward. They do this across disciplines, not just through the mastery of the subject. It means, for example, that a good science teacher can spot problems with writing and can suggest remedial worksheets when a student writes about the sun, but can also identify some trouble spots in maths, and help the student work through them. A great engineer can turn math problems into a more understandable diagram. A great history teacher can help a student understand how to write a proper essay. And so on.
We sometimes get put off by schools we have seen before. We know that the system can work, if we trust the teachers that are out there on the ground to do their job better than anyone else. The kind of professional school that I’m talking about is one in which there is a firm order of practice and a clear strategy.
What the Teacher Looks Like
The model of a ‘human classroom’ has a lot to say about us as individuals, and will matter a lot in helping us to achieve our long term goals. Of course, that aspect of the human body is at the heart of biology, and it is also true of our own minds. Over the last twenty years or so, a lot of human progress has come about through an emphasis on our minds – the way we organise them and the way they work. This is why we are living in a world where psychology and sociology are major research interests in medical research labs. Psychologists and sociologists are key component of the new ‘evolutionary psychologists’; and this is how we get personalised medical interventions, and cognitive therapies. What is not being talked about, but is likely to become increasingly important in the coming decades, is whether any one school can offer us optimal levels of ‘thinking’.
This is why the key ‘intellectual resource’ in any educational endeavour (other than basic courses on how to type) is the teacher. Learning a material will often take time and effort; it will rely on listening to examples, switching in and out of thinking modes, getting out of your comfort zone – all of these things that require a careful understanding of cognitive science. But, perhaps above all, all of these activities rely on a teacher who can provide guidance and experience of the different ways of thinking that can offer your class unique opportunities for individualising their learning. From a purely practical standpoint, the best possible teachers will know how to approach students, based on their individual needs, and care about building a relationship of trust in order to provide the most satisfying education possible. In a school that has good teachers, students can be really engaged and start solving problems, instead of sitting around and playing video games.
Céline Tassi’s father was one of these great teachers. He had a reputation as an amazing teacher – very personal and one who ‘taught by passion’. With my own experience as a teacher in the jungle of a city classroom, I came to understand that this makes all the difference. How and why we nurture teachers – and the standard of teaching methods in schools across the world – is now becoming one of the greatest challenges for an education system in