Intractable Problem: The Public School Factory

“The World has changed. The way we educate our children should too.”

That’s the opening page of BC’s Education plan.

“We need to make education more relevant to reflect the world students now live in, and the world of the future. One of the keys to do that is to personalize learning by putting students at the centre of learning so they can follow their own interests and passions within the topic matter. Teachers must be supported. And families must be involved.”
“Our challenge is clear. We need to make sure education in B.C. meets the needs of B.C. families today and in the future, keeping our young people achieving and thriving in a dynamic, rapidly evolving technological world.”

These are nice words to launch a plan. But as we know, Planning is easy; Execution is the tough part.

The school system is a perfect example of an intractable problem. We typically like to tinker on the surface by making changes to class sizes, budgets, teacher & staff compensation, breaks, and so on. Since the school system is political, much of the debate and noise is about getting votes from taxpayers. But if we really want to make significant improvements, we must go deeper and change the culture and the paradigms.

Some paradigms are so engrained – we don’t even know they are there. What are the Education paradigms we must challenge? For some time I thought I had a fairly good level of awareness. Then I was blown away and sent back to Square 1 by author and lecturer Sir Ken Robinson:

Wow. I never thought about the public school system being based on the Factory model. Now with this paradigm in mind, I can easily think of production line characteristics that apply to schools: date of manufacture, Monday to Friday schedule, testing, standards, extended breaks, for plant maintenance, failure and reject handling. I always wondered when the entire school met in the auditorium it was called “assembly”. Now I understand. I have a recurring dream (nightmare?) about a school bell ringing and being late for class. Now I understand. I was just being prepared for the working world.
One more characteristic to think about: the 9 to 5 working day. One would think if the goal is to be student-centric, we should be matching learning when the student peaks. That might be anytime, like 3 AM in the morning. It’s a belief that the Khan Academy holds by being available 24/7/365. But it’s not a view that is shared by all. As Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault says, having secondary schools operate on a 9-to-5 basis better reflects the schedule of today’s families.
In summary, here are 3 education paradigms and the shifts we need to make:

  1. Separate for efficiency –> End the myth of academic/vocational streaming
  2. Cheating is bad –> Most great learning happens in groups. Collaboration is the stuff of growth
  3. Treat students as products on a factory line –> Reshape the habits of education institutions and the habitats they occupy

My  friend and educator Paul Gagnon told me: “We are on the verge of a major change in the way in which we conceive of and deliver learning. Technology is maturing to the point that individual and customized learning is now a reality- with peak learning periods factored under the umbrella of self-directed, learning just in time and place a major feature. Truly and exciting time to be in education, I can tell you.”

I couldn’t agree with Paul more. Education like healthcare, electric utilities, and safety is undergoing a paradigm shift that technology has enabled. I enjoy reading about pioneers and innovators who have jumped to the new S-curve. I do feel sorry for the Education traditionalists who cling to the factory model not because they want to but because they don’t know they are.

The 2012 Twitter Olympics

Are you searching for more evidence of the Complexity/Sense-Making S-curve? Look no further than what transpired at the 2012 Twitter Olympics

It didn’t seem that long ago when TV stations and radio commanded the air waves and we waited for the newspaper printing presses to inform us of the details. But in 2012, the absolute control of information was not in the hands of the broadcasters. Look what the Twitterverse did to the BBC coverage of the cycling race. As TV viewers we were able make our voice heard about NBC’s delayed coverage.
We observed how athletes twittered and facebooked with family and fans. It’s terrific when an athlete with pure raw emotion tweets immediately after a big win. But it’s a two-way street ranging from Hope Solo’s mild rant to a Greek athlete making a racist comment and getting kicked off the team. The wise ones attempted to make sense of Rule 40 and what they were and were not allowed to do.
Would you like to know how the Olympics have grown? Check this Infographic.
How much bigger is social media in 2012 that it was in the 2008 Olympics? Three times? Ten times? How about 100 times? It’s fun imagining what it will be like 2 years from now at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.