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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Tale of 2 Views: What should education become

I'm attending the iNet Conference in East Lansing Michigan. With a strong international presence, the focus is one exploring and networking on ways for innovations in transforming education for developing students for a global society/economy. There is tremendous dialog around what educators around the world are thinking and doing to advance student learning within this present, and not based on the 19th/20th century model that remains a dominant presence.

The morning had intriguing presentations, followed by Q&A, by Dr. Yong Zhao, Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and Robert A. Compton, a venture capitalist who develops documentaries on such social issues as countries ranked high in student international tests--2 Million Minutes (trailer, pt.1 & pt.2) and The Finland Phenomenon.

Dr. Yong Zhao talked about "Student as Entrepreneur"(pdf). His premise is posing the question: how do we as a society maintain innovation and creativity by engaging students in such practices? Educators need to begin with the student's drive and build curricular (standards) experiences around their learning focus. Students are viewed as equal players in a collaborative journey for learning.
Some examples would be Project-Based Learning, Problem-Based Learning, and Inquiry. Whatever the approach, Zhao's ideas resonated for me in what he emphasized as key components for learning experiences:

  1. Identify Problem/Need
  2. Develop Solutions/Products
  3. Market Solutions/Products

Units that include these steps as a framework for how students learn and express understanding, then the "what" (ie. standards) will have greater meaning and therefore long laster retention.

Robert A. Compton talked about what top countries for education have in common: China, India, Finland, Korea. These countries are rated the highest based on international testing. Whatever you might think about standardized testing, Robert explored what do these countries have in common:

  • Culture
  • Curriculum
  • Credentials in teachers
Robert purports that a society gets what it celebrates. The top 4 countries revere academics, while the US highly value sports. Here's how Robert breaks down the comparison between the top 4 and the US, in terms of overt and subtle messages:

4 top countries
National View: Academic Achievement is greatly recognized
Local Communities: Scholars are stars, and are known by their local population
School focus: Learning is the purpose based on core curriculum
Family aspiration: Each generation excees previous

US
National View: Athletics, entertainment, education, college prep in this order are recognized
Local Communities: Scholars are barely noticed. Opening a local newspaper would reveal that athletics carry greater presence than the academic teams.
School focus: Sports, socializing, learning (perhaps grade-base not content), clubs, work, volunteering
Family aspiration: Mixed messages


Robert Compton presents much data to digest for their important implications. His solution is that the US needs to design a curriculum where the adults drive what students should learn, eliminating any input by students, because as students, what can they possibly contribute? Curriculum could be more focused (not tighter). Excluding students in the process has been in practice since the dawn of "modern" education (19th and 20th century educational system). This is the very system that Robert criticizes (and Yong). So to follow Robert's suggestion appears to continue using the same system, with small and/or big tweaks. This suggestion reminds me on Mike Schmoker's argument that education should roll back to the 1950s where education is 90% lecture and rhetoric.

Makes me think about the adage: What's the definition for insanity? Continue doing the same thing and expect a different result. Should we continue to mandate an industrial education system to a global-based society which is shown by many thinkers including Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat.

I don't want to diminish Compton's observations about what societies value. His observations needs to be critically reviewed as we take a hard look at our societies and ourselves in regards to education.

In the end, if we want a student, graduating from a K-12 career with 21st century skills that enable them to work independently and with others effectively, then how do ensure that those experiences are embedded into their learning career? The solutions may be somewhere in between these two viewpoints, and must include the involvement of the students.

Articles about school systems in other countries