Should Learners Design Their Own Educational Futures?

Many people who are parents, professionals, business owners-large and small, teachers and students are beginning to voice their thoughts and feelings regarding the very question that headlines this article. Some are saying ‘yes’ and some are saying ‘no.’

My answer to this question is an enthusiastic “yes.” The following is “why.”

First of all there are the very basic thoughts about this question.  Of course there are many questions that will come from the question itself. Generally speaking some of the obvious ones are: Why shouldn’t they be able to decide what they want to do to earn a living when they grow into adults? Are learners mature enough to make these important decisions? Parents worry that junior will pick all the “easy” stuff and won’t be prepared to “do battle” upon graduation for those diminishing employment opportunities?  If I am willing to pay the cost of tuition and all the attached costs why shouldn’t I study what I feel adds interest and relevance to my life? There are many more but hopefully you get the gist of what I’m writing about.

There are concerns about education becoming too dependent upon technology to adequately educate our children and that we are moving much too fast. Learners still value contact and the connectedness they experience with human beings–mentors/coaches. If the learners aren’t getting what they need, they’ll slow down the use of technology.

For me my reasons speak to the need to grow the understanding that our learners need to be more competitive on the International stage. We need to demonstrate, more clearly, the need to address the long overdue changes identified with the current pedagogy. In 1962-Hall-Dennis suggested dramatic changes in how we educated our kids and not much was done to address those ideas. Now we are playing “catch-up” because many other countries who were struggling with global standards and ranking saw the need to change-did so-and now we are following their lead in many cases.

This is not a condemnation of our system. This is not a criticism of our teachers. This is, however, a comment on some of the decisions that were made years ago that have hampered our growth and our inability to change how we do things in education. The University of Toronto-a fine school by all accounts ranks 22nd Internationally tied with The National University of Singapore. U of T is the only Canadian School in the top 25. Oxford and Cambridge rank 1 & 2 Internationally. These are the 2018 rankings.

The point to this is we have to change the way we do business-the way we do education in this country and we need to start by letting the actual drivers of the system have a much greater say in how things are done–student satisfaction and success go a long way to changing the perception other countries have of us.

Here are my 5 reasons why learners should design their own educational futures:

  1. The most important driving force in education today is the learner. They are the ones who foster change in the system and we would be well served if we paid more attention to what it is they have to say. In a true sense the system is supposed to work for them and not the other way around. They would be the ones who regulate the overall content and the amount of influence technology would have on course design. They recognize the importance of the human factor in any learning environment.
  2. It’s a given that there still is some need for rote learning in a number of the courses the learners might choose. If we listen to the learners they will tell us (the system) how much is enough. It needs to be dropped as a practice but continued as a necessity for those professions that require it. It still can be a learning tool.
  3. Learners need to be able to select and study what they favour–what they are interested in doing when they grow up. They will never know what those interests might be if they are never exposed to the information and a hands-on opportunity to experience working in a particular field. We need to get over the idea that university is a 4 year  plan and that we know what’s best for them. If it takes 5 or 6 years to graduate then so be it. Kids learn at different speeds-It is too great a mistake for kids to be pushed through a course of study to graduation just because they changed their minds half way through a program. Better they have a chance to pursue something they are interested in than to work at something they dislike.
  4. In the future certifications will not hold much value. The true proof for a potential employee will be how well they do with on the job examinations testing for particular skills sets and how successful are they are with the competency based testing they are likely to experience. Kids need to select particular skill based programs that they will need to develop so they can be more successful. THEY are the ones that know what they need more than others. They should be able to choose what they need to be comfortable and more confident.
  5. Kids just learn better and faster when they choose to study and learn about topics that are of interest to them. The system needs to put together a study plan that includes these interests but also prepares them for the supporting education that helps them to succeed.

Anyways, that’s how I see things, All the best, Jim

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(Disclaimer: Photo resources used in this article were used for Education, Research or Criticism purposes only. I derive no financial benefit from the use of this image.)

If Our Governments Could Save Millions Would You Be Interested In Knowing How?

If you could ask your government representative one question what would it be? I know what mine would be: “If you could save this province millions of dollars each year without cutting ANY services would you be interested in knowing how?” All that is necessary is for our next administration to demonstrate they possess some imagination, some creativity and political ‘balls’ to do now what will NEED to be done later if we want to maintain our reputation as a world leader.

If you’re a grandparent, single parent, co-parenting parent and you care about the future of your children or grandchildren then this article would be worth a read.

There is an overwhelming amount of data/research available to those who wish to read it that suggests the need to design a new paradigm regarding the methodology we use to educate our children and the curriculum offered to our kids. If you are interested in hearing the real experts talk about education and how the lack of leadership and vision is actually affecting the prospects of our kids being successful when competing for good jobs in the 21st Century economies, click on the underlined link.

Parents need to be involved with planning their kids education. Let’s not trust the ‘system’ to tell our kids what they must learn and how they will learn it. For the longest time Boards of Education have connected an education with securing a good job when they graduate. Today’s kids wont settle for a standard one size fits all education. They want to utilize their varied skills and talents and decide on career paths that stimulate passion about learning and contributing as well. They want to be excited about learning and preparing for their futures. Our children will need to receive the best education they can get in order to succeed but the current system is not getting that job done.

So how does this claim to save multiple millions of dollars come into play. Just think about how many schools are closing and how many kids are being bussed to other schools up to an hour away-at what cost? Our question needs to be why are schools closing? School boards would say that it is because of declining enrolments. However, the number of kids enrolling every year seems to be consistent so why aren’t they attending school? Answer: Because they are not stimulated by the curriculum, remain bored and have lost confidence in the system as it stands. In short: they are not learning what they need to in order to be successful and they know it. The more kids become passionate about learning and choose to engage in the new system the more they will attend school. The result: less mental health problems like depression and stress, less teen suicide, less use of social services, police services, hospital services, fire services and counselling services thereby saving hundreds of millions of dollars. Some researches suggest an overall reduction of at lest 30% of total health care costs could be saved. (30% of a 50 Billion$ budget-Ontario=15 Billion $)

Kids want to learn in groups now not sitting in single rows of desks. They want to share their learning experience with others who have the same career ambitions. They will learn faster from each other and that is a proven fact. Think about how long it takes them to learn how to use the latest technology.

So here is a quick look at what the ‘new’ learning centers will look like:

1. Programs will be designed, in part, by the learners (students), parents and the mentors asigned to the specific learning environments. This is referred to as a ‘student centered approach. Teachers will become ‘mentors’ providing guidance and instruction where needed. Mentors will be encouraged to be innovative and creative regarding how they manage their learning environments and not punished for thinking outside the ‘box’ as they are now.

2. Classrooms will become work labs where students (learners) will work in groups who have similar learning styles. Each learner will have a lap top. No need for text books. All the kids need to know and more is on-line. They need to be taught how to search out information. School Boards would save millions of dollars.

New Learning Lab

3. No homework. Homework is done at school so that any problems or questions about the work can be discussed and solutions found with the assistance of the ‘mentors’. Other learners, who might have struggled with similar questions, will benefit as well.

4. No more standardized testing. Learners will be encouraged to work at their own speed and level of understanding. Currently many students get pushed ahead into the next grade whether they are ready or not only to struggle at the next level because they didn’t completely understand where they had just come from. A sure recipe for ‘failure’ if there ever was one not to mention the increase in mental health related issues like stress and anxiety.

5. Any new paradigm should welcome/include hard to serve learners. I’m not speaking about the learners who have learning disabilities here. I’m speaking of programs that are designed to include the special needs learners who present as brilliant learners as well as those who learn at a slower than average pace. We are losing so much creativity and innovation from both ends of the ‘regular student spectrum’.

There needs to be a ‘revolution’ happen in the educational process and not an ‘evolution’. An evolutionary approach would just build on what we know doesn’t work.

Anyways, that’s how I see things–all the best, Jim

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Author Jim Cloughley's 
Brand New Blueprint For Learning