Jump to content

Possible improvements to the education system


Recommended Posts

So the pandemic has cast much about education in a whole new light. For all people's virtue-signaling about lofty ideals of education, it seems a lot of people were just using the education system as a de facto babysitting centre. Makes one wonder what else people have to say about it they might not really mean.

 

While we're re-evaluating voters' reasons for supporting the education system, (or at least its continued existence) let's re-evaluate our ideas on what to do with it.

 

1. I think standardized testing should be lower-stakes, but more frequent. Disagreement among teachers about "how good is good" as far as student answers go, let alone which answers fit the bill compared to each other, should not be playing too crucial a role in entrance to university. A standardized test assessed exclusively by former teachers at that grade level, where each teacher assesses a different question, but assesses it for each student, should keep even the most unintended biases to a reasonable minimum. However, the present approach to high-stakes testing lends too much weight on too few tests, causing anyone who isn't at their A-game that day for a variety of legitimate reasons to have the deck stacked against them.

 

2. If we can't give students re-usable textbooks without getting parents' complaints about graffiti and students' complaints about how heavy their backpacks are; and we can't give students single-use worksheets without environmentalists complaining that we're wasting paper (never mind that, according to the education system's own statements about the carbon cycle, a tree being converted to paper and burned is better climate-wise than it dying and rotting in the forest) why not just print standardized re-usable elaminated worksheets, and have them show their workings in their exercise books so that they don't waste quite as much paper, and have less-heavy backpacks with less potential for graffiti? (Putting aside the risk of marking on them with sharpies, in which case, since it's only a few worksheets a week, it'd be easier to tell who was responsible than with an entire textbook?)

 

3. Bring coats into the classroom. Not to wear them, but to leave them on the chair in case of a fire in the middle of winter. You can't "stand by the fire" to keep warm; if you're downwind from the fire there's bound to be a distance at which you get smoke inhalation and frostbite at the same time. Have them bring in their coats. Putting them in their lockers reduces space for other items, and in practice at some middle schools some students leave their lockers unlocked anyway.

 

4. Speaking of which, why can't paper waste (to whatever extent it is inevitable and/or worse than the alternatives) be incinerated in the backyards of schools? I don't mean open-pit fires, but rather a closed, tightly-knit wire-mesh where all the paper waste from [x] past few weeks (however much is the right tradeoff between safety and efficiency to burn) is burned underneath a giant pot of water, whether to make enough coffee for everyone or turn a turbine, (or both, if it can be safely done) so as to demonstrate many principles of physics and chemistry, while demonstrating a good environmental alternative to throwing paper in the trash at the same time?

 

5. We're told students should be "involved" in the lesson, rather than just being talked to about the content. Something like mixing chemicals is something they can do for themselves while seeing the results, while changing electron energy levels... well, they can see the colours that result, but not the orbitals themselves. So why not make science cross-curricular with physical education, and have students role-play electrons in different orbitals?

 

6. So what's with the bias in favour of the written word? People are assessed on aspects of books that weren't in their movie adaptations, and some schools even do silent reading where it doesn't matter what you're reading, as long as it's a book. If the point of books like To Kill A Mockingbird was to tackle racism, doesn't the movie do so comparably effectively, if possibly more? If the point of books like Sarah Plain And Tall was to tackle the struggles of the old midwest, doesn't the movie do so comparably effectively, if possibly more? What business is it of the taxpayer the medium by which students choose to consume their fiction?

 

7. How do we tackle the topics about which the education system has cried wolf? Most famously the "marijuana is addictive" myth, but even things like claiming people used to believe the world was round, or that Edison invented the light bulb, tarnish the education system's credibility among those who know these things aren't true. How does the education system come clean about this without tarnishing its reputation even further? (Maintaining lies on the taxpayer's dime is not an acceptable option.)

 

8. Last but not least... why not have teaching be a secondary job instead of their only job? A teacher who teaches only one slot of one course will have plenty of time left over for a second part-time job, if not a full-time one, and students seem to have much more respect for teachers who are teaching from experience than from someone who teaches only from what other academics taught them. Even if the latter looks more like them.

Edited by ScienceNostalgia101
Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

t seems a lot of people were just using the education system as a de facto babysitting centre

No, it seems a lot of people have a choice to make.
They either stay home and take care of their own kids, or they send them to the 'de facto babysitting center' so that they can go to work and earn a living to feed, clothe and house their kids,
Which would you do ?

As for your other concerns, like locker space, excessive paper use, and burning paper/trash in a big bonfire ...
What ???
I would think there are many more pressing concerns.

Link to post
Share on other sites

They're not THE most pressing concerns, but every little bit helps.

 

A youth centre could supervise their kids too, but for some reason taxpayer support doesn't seem to be as strong for that sort of thing. Even though they'd probably do better on a science quiz after binge-watching Magic School Bus in the lounge room than in an average science classroom.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Some thoughts from a Teacher's perspective (mine)

 

1.  High Stakes testing.  Definitely should not be used as the primary means of determining what a student knows.  Frequent assessments (what we call "formative" assessments) work best.  In my experience most good teachers do it that way.  However, some high stakes testing is important.  If a person does not learn to handle some degree of pressure they are likely destined for job failure.

2.  The written word.  The ability to read is fundamental to almost all of life.  Try using as computer if you cannot read well.  It also relates to learning.  When we read, process information through our brains and then write some of it down (note-taking or doing homework) we learn much better than when we watch a movie.  It is true that some people learn well from video-- but not many.  There are many different learning styles among people and a good teach tries to activate all the styles:  by requiring reading, by doing visual demonstrations, using video clips and even requiring written work.

3.  Textbooks:  they can now be online-- no paper or pages written upon by previous students.

4.  Teaching as a secondary job?  Well, maybe if you teach only one class period-- but not efficient or likely.  Many teachers spend nearly as much "teaching" time out of the classroom as they do in the classroom.  The outside time is when we read student work, correct their work, and try to figure out what they understand or do not understand so that we can appropriately adjust our lesson plan for the following day.  When I was teaching math I was working 60 hours a week--just because I needed to check the student homework to make sure the learning was happening.

As far as I can tell the rest of your concerns are minor-- even things in the discretion of the individual teacher.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm well aware that much of a teacher's time is spent marking; it is partly because of that, not in spite of that, that I proposed the one time slot, one course approach; 1/6 of the teaching burden translates to 1/6 of the marking burden, spreading it out amongst a greater fraction of the public, partly because many hands make light work and partly to prove to them just how much work is involved in the job. (How many voters say things like "teachers get paid to work 6 hours half the days of the year?")

 

If there are many learning styles, why not give students the option of learning by video or book, rather than imposing the latter on them?

 

Stuff that in theory is in the discretion of the individual teacher in practice might be bad for a teacher's career if popular opinion among voters who elect the school board officials doesn't favour it. I think drawing public attention to the benefits of these things will allow them to more effectively be done top-down.

Edited by ScienceNostalgia101
Link to post
Share on other sites

While students can learn many different ways ( being lectured to, reading online or from textbooks, video presentation, etc. ), the part the teacher plays is recognizing the student's interests and developing them.
That is why a lot of people have 'special' teachers that they credit with developing their interest in a certain subject, at which they later excelled.
My high school Physics teacher was one such educator. He opened his first Gr11 class with the question "Are you moving ?", to which I was the only one who responded "Relative to what ?"
The other was a 'tough as nails' Gr13 Algebra teacher who passed away the summer after I finished high school.
I had always been a below average math student, but he developed my interest in it by lecturing us at length about things like calculating probabilities of winning the lottery with factorials, or how plants sprout leaves according to the Fibonacci sequence, etc.

Link to post
Share on other sites
On 12/12/2020 at 8:27 PM, MigL said:

While students can learn many different ways ( being lectured to, reading online or from textbooks, video presentation, etc. ), the part the teacher plays is recognizing the student's interests and developing them.

That sounds like it would be a lot more feasible if teachers had more time to do so. Teachers are in practice overworked to the point of being overwhelmed, until or unless they are highly experienced to the point where marking is a breeze and lesson planning is made nearly obsolete by prior familiarity with what works and what doesn't in the context of the courses they teach. Most teachers aren't necessarily that far along in their careers, and many of them don't end up staying in the profession long enough to get to that point.

 

This, I think, is another benefit of the "one time slot of one course per teacher" approach. The less of a teaching burden there is per teacher, the less of a marking and lesson planning burden there is to go with it, and the more time one has to get to know one's students as individuals.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...

Fundamentally the mindset of most students and parents (as well as many teachers) has become grade-oriented. Folks confuse grades with understanding the material and looking at students just entering college it is clear that few have developed deep interests or even reading skills. Over the years it has become apparent that learning is paper-thin to the test and students have been adept in further optimizing the process. In student evaluations you see an increase in complaints that instructors teach too much, which in the end does not appear in tests. I.e. it shows a mindset where folks are highly focused on the grades as sole outcome, and anything not related to it (e.g. deepen understanding, or foundational knowledge that is important for higher classes) tend to get neglected. Traditionally this was more common in pre-meds, who optimize class selection in order to get into med school, but it seems to have affect majors, too now. 

Big issue there is that even in advanced classes you realize at some point that a big proportion of the class has no recollection of previous courses, they just learned for the test and after that it is gone. It could also be connected with how younger folks consume media and information in general, but sometimes a class seems to be full of amnesiacs. One can still shame individual students into re-learning bits when you recognize them from former classes, but as a whole I feel it has been getting harder over the last decade or so. There is also the mindset that the teacher's job is not to teach, but to facilitate high grades, which does not really help. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Part of the issue might be that the notion of "deeper understanding" is a little hard to take seriously when the same voters who elect the school board trustees (including those who, by abstaining from voting, hand the decision over to those who show up) claim in every other context to value free speech and free markets. People say they value both, then tax the masses to impose a curriculum author's portrayal of history on a captive audience of students coerced into attendance by law. One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn't belong.

 

And then we wonder why students don't believe the education system when it warns them about the dangers of vaping.

Edited by ScienceNostalgia101
Link to post
Share on other sites
19 hours ago, ScienceNostalgia101 said:

Part of the issue might be that the notion of "deeper understanding" is a little hard to take seriously when the same voters who elect the school board trustees (including those who, by abstaining from voting, hand the decision over to those who show up) claim in every other context to value free speech and free markets. People say they value both, then tax the masses to impose a curriculum author's portrayal of history on a captive audience of students coerced into attendance by law. One of these things is not like the others. One of these things doesn't belong.

 

And then we wonder why students don't believe the education system when it warns them about the dangers of vaping.

A friend of mine once said "never go to the next lesson, until you've understood the last" it's the curse of knowledge that you think there's a "deeper understanding"; there is just understanding, some do and some don't; a good teacher improves the number that do and struggle's with those that don't.

A good student just struggles.

 

Link to post
Share on other sites
31 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

there is just understanding, some do and some don't;

While there is some truth to that, I found that the superficial knowledge type is increasingly prevalent. I.e. the one where you learn to parrot keywords that they regurgitate once they see a question that seems to be peripheral to it. Folks follow lectures and/or view youtube videos on a topic and feel that they understand things, but barely ever put time to reflect on the topic and try to explain it to themselves or others. They get frustrated if they are not getting spoon-fed everything (e.g. terms on slides they need to follow up) and so on. 

I do think information consumption has changed quite a bit and so far I have not found any educator who had a good plan to deal with it. Perhaps a new generation of instructors will be fine with it. But it looks like the trend is really towards making folks entertained while feeling they learned something rather than dealing with the material at depth. The shift to online learning really shows how the student work, and unfortunately it is mostly putting the questions into google, fora, or discord servers and hoping someone else has the answers...

Link to post
Share on other sites
6 minutes ago, CharonY said:

While there is some truth to that, I found that the superficial knowledge type is increasingly prevalent. I.e. the one where you learn to parrot keywords that they regurgitate once they see a question that seems to be peripheral to it. Folks follow lectures and/or view youtube videos on a topic and feel that they understand things, but barely ever put time to reflect on the topic and try to explain it to themselves or others. They get frustrated if they are not getting spoon-fed everything (e.g. terms on slides they need to follow up) and so on. 

I do think information consumption has changed quite a bit and so far I have not found any educator who had a good plan to deal with it. Perhaps a new generation of instructors will be fine with it. But it looks like the trend is really towards making folks entertained while feeling they learned something rather than dealing with the material at depth. The shift to online learning really shows how the student work, and unfortunately it is mostly putting the questions into google, fora, or discord servers and hoping someone else has the answers...

Indeed, we have to start with the fundamentals, for instance what physics expert can repair/build a car? 

First, we have to understand the limitations of knowledge as it pertains to understanding the human condition.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.