“Schools as we know them are obsolete”

“Schools as we know them are obsolete”

“Schools as we know them are obsolete”, so says Professor Sugata Mitra. 

Prof. Mitra has as a clear view of the education system, he says the education system is not ‘broken’ it’s ‘outdated’.

He continues, that schools are part of an education system designed by the Victorians to be a production line for recruits for The British Empire’s bureaucratic system.

The problem is that the Empire does not exist any more but we are still producing people for that system.

You will find a link below to his fascinating and inspiring Ted talk.  Prof. Sugata Mitra seems to have proved that students can learn by themselves if they have access to knowledge.

He started with an experiment in India in 1999, in which he put a computer in a hole in the wall of his office, bordering a slum, to find out if poor children could learn without any help.

He issued no instructions, but they learned anyway. You will see videos of how they did it.

His next experiment was in Kallikuppum in Tamil Nadu, southern India. He wanted to find out if non-English speaking children in Tamil Nadu could learn the biotechnology of DNA replication in English from a street-side computer without a teacher.

At the same time had set up a ‘control’ school in Delhi with a trained biotechnology teacher. Within a few months the children in Kallikuppum, with minimal help from an unqualified adult had caught up!

They had learned advanced biochemistry in a language they did not understand from a computer screen under a tree without a teacher!

This seems to me extraordinary and it poses many important questions about how we teach, how students learn and what the future of education will be.

I have had the conversation about education reform, many times, live and on social media, and I have always backed off when people say, things like, you will always need teachers and schools.

Well, do we?

You know what, maybe I will not back off next time? Do we need the same type of education system as we have always had? I still believe you need someone to ask the questions, and teach the social mores we still need, but I am increasingly inclined to agree with Prof. Mitra.  Maybe, knowing is obsolete, maybe we can find out what we need to know when we need to know it on demand.

Sugata Mitra says if you allow learning to happen it self-organises and learning emerges.

He has already set it up an organisation called ‘school in the cloud’ that offers support to set up SOLEs, or, self-organized learning networks. If you have not seen this viedo, you must to look at it as soon as possible.

TED Talk Sugata Mitra








Imagine you are the new Minister for Education The RSA

Imagine you are the new Minister for Education The RSA

Imagine you are the new Minister for Education, so saysThe RSA in their new report on education reform.

I should declare a vested interest here as I am a Fellow The RSA and I fully support their mission.

In this paper they throw their ‘hat into the ring’ of education reform.

They set out a programme to create innovative teacher leaders to lead education reform from inside the system.

1. Build the case for change
2. Encourage government to desist from short terms reforms
3. Develop a different type of accountability
4. Create space for local curriculums
5. Prioritise creative assessment
6. Place a focus on creating innovative teachers
7. Create a creative incubator for education
8. Create peer teacher learning groups foster innovation
9. Develop system entrepreneurship

The report further sets out six contestable hypothesis for debate

1. System leaders need to focus on the best values
2. Mandate the good unleashes greatness
3. Reevaluate the education model
4. Create new patterns and ecosystems
5. School is an important institution
6. Learners need to be enabled and empowered

For those of you who do not know of The RSA,(Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), was formed in 1754, is based in London and is an august and well thought of association who have very strong and clear thoughts on the role that education should play. This new report and shortly to be annouced public debate aims to put to them in he centre of the debate about educatin reform.

They have a powerful and influential network of twenty seven thousand thought leaders who are motivated by the mission.

The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) to give its full and very grand title, says it’s mission ‘is to enrich society through ideas and action.’

We believe that all human beings have creative capacities that, when understood and supported, can be mobilised to deliver a 21st-century enlightenment.
We work to bring about the conditions for this change, not just amongst our diverse Fellowship, but also in institutions and communities.
By sharing powerful ideas and carrying out cutting-edge research, we build networks and opportunities for people to collaborate – creating fulfilling lives and flourishing society.’

The report itself is well written and researched and is a good starting point for those who want a non-commercial and unbiased view of the current position of education.

I have read it all and I even spotted a typo, not like me so I must have been engaged.

I would encourage everyone interested in the subject to read it carefully; I did.

I understand the position they take of empowering teachers and as an ex-teacher I think that this is an important place to start and can be a good initiative to arrest the decline in numbers of great new teachers leaving the profession after only a few years.

However, I believe that motivating learners and changing the style of learning is the priority and I am not sure that those already within the system can do this quickly as it is a systemic problem. We also know that trying to turn government policy is like try to push The Titanic uphill.

Apart from speed of change there is a danger that this important contribution may not be aligned with other initiatives and in an increasingly diverse and debated area may ‘wither on the vine’, or note achieve as much traction as it deserves.

Although I suppose by creating a willing and talented force for change within teaching they could create a place where new ideas are tried and from this group could come a force for change.

I particularly like the idea of a ‘creativity incubator.’

Please read it and tell me what you think? I warn you though you will need a good fire and at least one glass of good red wine, I did!

To read the full report click here and to visit the RSA website click here.

‘Another brick in the wall’

‘Another brick in the wall’

‘Another brick in the wall’

I just watched an extraordinary video by a 17-year-old student in Beirut.

I’m going to share the link with you below so that you can see it too.

If you ever thought that there was nothing wrong with education right now listen to him and tell me you still believe it after you have watched the video?

As I was thinking about what to say about it suddenly made me think of the lyrics to the Pink Floyd album ‘Another brick in the wall’.

‘We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.’
All I could remember of the lyrics was ‘Teachers leave them kids alone’, so I looked them up and found them to be very descriptive of what Jihad Kawas was talking about.

We have had Generation X now have their own children who are called Generation Z. Jihad Kawas is one of them. He talks very calmly and amusingly about school not saying that he hates it just saying there is a better way. He asks parents to demand the type of school he describes.

He says that for him there are three things wrong with school. Time, assessment and subjects.

He says we seem to spend all day at school waiting. Waiting for the bus to go to school, waiting for lessons, waiting for lunch, to be inspired and waiting for it to end. He asks the question what could a kid do in 8 hours if he was not at school?’

He tells an amusing story about assessment where he had a physics exam but forgot to write the formulas on his hand, which he confesses he usually did.

Because of the failed the exam and was really ‘pissed off’ with himself.

So he went home and spent a long time learning how to produce a video game about how he felt about the experience. Ironically he did lots of learning and produce a game where the teacher got killed by his head. He demonstrated all of the theories and principles he needed to pass the exam and showed them to his physics teacher.

Although he had demonstrated enough to pass the exam, the assessment did not allow him to be examined on the content that he had created, and so he failed.

So finally the last point that he hates is learning things that he doesn’t think he wants to learn or is not interested in.

He imagines a school where you learn the things you’re interested in, and you learn by doing things rather than sitting listening to teachers talking about theory.

A school where you’re assessed on the things you produce what and how well you memorise facts she may never use.

A school where you can learn with students of any age and be inspired by the differences in your experiences.

A school where you can learn by failing and not be punished for failing.

At the beginning of his very engaging talk says ‘we find school irrelevant or even destructive to what we do’.

This is not an unintelligent guy was going to be unsuccessful in life. He has already formed a company and was invited to Apple’s conference selected from millions who applied.

This is a guy who wants to be successful and learn the things he thinks he needs to know and is interested in and then you’ll be inspired to do more.

Wouldn’t this be an easier way to educate people?

You may think it’s impossible, but I would say to you that with even current technology, let alone what will happen shortly, we could do this now.

It is easy to imagine how core subjects could be related to personal learning styles and subjects, and more importantly, goals.

Assessments could be in many different formats from models to tools, video presentations written pieces or even the effect that the piece of work has on other people.

If we can put a man on the moon surely, it’s not difficult to do this?

I’m going to write to him and send him the lyrics of the song and see if he thinks that it sums up the situation; I do.

‘All in all you’re just another brick in the wall’.


To see the video click here

Lessons from Finland kill 99% of GERMS

Lessons from Finland kill 99% of GERMS

‘Lessons from Finland kill 99% of GERMS’, what a brilliant headline to this piece by Pasi Sahlberg a Finnish education innovator and commentator.

What he is referring to in GERMS is the acronym for The Global Education Reform Movement.

In a brutal but fair summary of the changes and policies, other countries have adopted he surmises they would have all been better off using the Finnish system and avoiding GERMS. But here I think we need to differentiate between government and centralised change and the external ideas and concepts.

He is quite correct in his summary of what has been called a ‘reform movement’ and what it’s policies have been.

  1. Standardisation
  2. Focus on core subjects
  3. Quicker and cheaper way of achieving learning goals
  4. Corporate management models
  5. Test-based accountability

I have written about Ed 3.0 and the education revolution, or reform before, but Pasi’s piece has made me think that we should also consider what damage has been done by the poor recent centralised changes.

Standardisation in the 80’s and 90’s across western European and the USA concentrated on the outcomes of education as the indicator for improved education by testing students and teachers.

In fact, what has happened is stress and breakdown in the processes as I wrote last week in my piece about Stress and Tragedy in the UK Education System.

It also has managed to achieve the lowest common denominator and made individuality and creativity in the teaching process impossible.

Of course, the drive was financially based and a good example of how to apply management philosophy to learning without understanding what damage it will do.

The other change to accompany standardisation was the focus on core subjects which while logical has again been detrimental to the teaching process.

The subjects not included in the ‘core’, were humanities, arts, music and physical education and we have caused numerous social problems, like obesity as a result of this act. We also realise now that we lack creative thinking in our student output mainly as a consequence of these two initiatives.

The outcome of the first two concepts is to make schools and teachers take a pragmatic and effect based views of their profession and process.

The emphasis on results and measurement by testing has restricted teachers time and input to focus on ways of achieving the results which in turn causes teachers to teach for exams.

The outcome is we now have students who know how to pass exams but not to think. Not surprising really?

The use of the business model and cultures on education has driven the pursuit of business, economic and fiscal goals above goals based on moral, cultural and human improvement and values.

Lastly, test accountability and the above models have created a fear of being punishment amongst teachers and schools and diverted attention from teaching to avoiding penalties, a real corporate malaise that destroys freedom and creativity.

Pasi goes on to say that none of these ideas have been adopted in Finland where they would rather promote the creativity of teachers, students and the overall happiness and achievements of students.

Needless, to say they score highly on academic scales such as PISA.

Here, however, I start to disagree, I think that he is oversimplifying the issues.

There is no doubt that by not taking these measures the Finnish education system offers good ‘control’ of what might have happened if we had not gone in this direction.

But I would propose three things;

  1. First they are doing well because they have an advanced culture in and so the education system and its achievements are part of a wider social success
  2. Second that they are also facing problems in common with other education systems
  3. Third that the motivation of students comes from independence, relevant factual teaching context and understanding how learning helps them to achieve their individual goals

While it is interesting to analyse why we are where we are, the problems caused by the policies above are only part of the picture.

The main issues are and will remain as follows

  1. Central control of education policy and curricula
  2. The fear of change and innovation in teachers and schools
  3. Not understanding what the overall goals of education are
  4. Not understanding how to engage with online learning and commerce
  5. Not teaching teachers new skills because of the lack of strategic vision
  6. Not putting teachers and students at the centre of the process

So it’s interesting to look back and assess where we’ve come from only if it helps us to look forward.

As Einstien said, ‘ We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’

Albert Einstein

Funny, I keep finding myself coming back to this quote again and again.

So let’s look forward and think creatively about this problem and come up with new solutions!





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