Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The future of education .. from the past

When FJ Gladman wrote his authoritative guide on Control and Teaching in 1876, he looked to the past to write why he recommended as he did. He wrote of how the first modern schools had sprung independently from bootstrapping of getting students to teach students. The method required registers by which the 'teachers' would mark off the material they had shown. Teachers do it today.

Also, today, schools are required to alert parents when their child is not at school. When a mother was telephoned recently, the school left messages, and eight hours passed before the mother knew that her child had gone missing. Schools are held accountable for their student's welfare.

Meanwhile, at Fairvale HS, there is a classroom where a tech savvy teacher (L Nguyen) has cybered his classroom, so that children scan a card as they arrive, and the room has three home made smart whiteboards with internet access and scanners and projectors. Mr Nguyen could conceivably be at home, talking to the class on a screen, showing work on another screen and the third screen showing a student who wished to ask a question. Conceivably, with a teacher's aide present in each class, Mr Nguyen could 'work' in several classrooms and track student achievement.

One simple way to increase school accountability, and limit paperwork, is to place registers online and give parents access. It is no longer good enough that a parent is denied knowledge of what is taught, what their child has missed, and when. With online registers linked to attendance in school and class, parents (and schools) could be privy to what a student has missed if they skipped a class sick. Teachers would benefit with having an organised online entry showing what they did and when. It would make it easier for a parent to see what homework has been set.

At the moment, as historically has been the case, parents have not been aware of what is taught at school, beyond the odd parent teacher night, teacher meetings and school reports. An online entry would not remove the need for school reports, but would change the emphasis from misleading observations of achievement towards anecdotes of behavioural interaction.

The information exists about teacher performance in student performance in external exams. But parents and schools are not privy to that knowledge because of a bun fight between legislators and teacher unions. Parents should have that knowledge, packaged appropriately.

Many schools are dysfunctional and one obvious problem with this system is that parents might become aware when a class has problems. However, that issue has to be faced. Today, the children become the heirs of incompetence in the classroom. In the future, if parents become aware of dysfunction within the class, the result could be improved outcomes for the students. Children will exploit any daylight between the differing opinions of two parents. They do the same between parents and teachers.
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