Monday, April 7, 2014

A Modern 21st Century Plan For Education (2014)

Wired Students

“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.” 
Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays (1580)

I have two boys attending school; one is 12 and is in middle school, in Grade 6; the other is almost 6 and is in elementary school, in senior kindergarten. What I have noticed, especially after many conversations and helping with homework with my oldest son, is that there is high degree of conformity in what the teachers expect. The rubric given for each assignment spells out clearly, step-by-step, what the teachers require and expect from each student, leaving no room for "error," or in my view for individuality and creativity.

Such is the way it is, and I doubt that it will get better, so since the schools want to turn out a cadre of conformists, I have a plan that will achieve this and also save the taxpayer loads of money. In the billions; perhaps tens of billions. The beauty and benefit of this plan is that it will work for all public elementary and high schools, no matter the city, jurisdiction or nation; it can be easily scaled up, saving even more money for the taxpayers. The most ardent conservative ought to take note of what I am here proposing.

Since the teachers today are not really teaching, but just acting as thoughtless automatons, why not get rid of them altogether and replace them with modern technology; this includes no more principals, no more administrators and no more school boards—all are unnecessary in my bold, new plan for education.  As well, let's also turn the buildings now operating as schools to other uses, which would also save the cost of energy, maintenance and the like; many of the buildings sit on prime real estate, and I am sure cities could benefit from its sale.

So, here are the essentials of the plan: 1) at birth, the state gives each student a modern computer, a free high-speed internet connection, and a smartphone; 2) when the child is old enough to manipulate a mouse, by age two, he or she is given private lessons, by a facilitator, on how to use the computer; this is repeated yearly until age 5, when the child officially enrolls and starts school; 3) all lessons, projects, homework, assignments are done on-line, and at home, and grades are also assigned automatically; 4) the students on-line time is calculated daily, weekly and monthly, but the main focus is not time spent on the on-line curriculum, but on mastery of the particular subject; and 6) online facilitators and tutors are available 24 hours a day, seven day a week.

The student progresses to the next level (or grade) once they have mastered the current level, all the way until level 12. This could be faster or slower, depending on the child's initiative, abilities, attitude, skills and intelligence. A student could conceivably graduate high school before he or she becomes a teenager. The possibilities are endless; the excitement boundless. When I discussed this plan with my son, he was enthusiastic and said this would make school "more fun."

More often than not, he finds it restrictive, boring and tedious. Can you imagine the societal benefit, saving costs to the taxpayers on child mental health services? (Pharma companies might see a sharp decline is sales of psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin, a small price to pay, I think, for happier, more well-rounded children.) No more rushing the kids out the door to school; no more school buses, no more wasted energy heating, cooling or lighting old buildings, etc. There are so many measurable benefits to the environment, making this plan foolproof.

Some might argue that this is too radical, too revolutionary an idea, but I don't think so; if the school curriculum doesn't allow for individuality and creativity, then we ought to ensure that we use the best and most advanced computer and information technology available to humanity. It's the rational and logical thing to do; and not to do so is to rob children of the best.

As much I highly and enthusiastically endorse and advocate for this plan, I do have some small seeds of doubt. They are no means strong, but persistent. If, by small chance, the overseers of the curriculum decide that creativity, innovation and individuality are not only important, but also humanly essential for an informed citizenry—and that teachers could deviate from the curriculum when they deem it necessary—then this plan itself becomes unnecessary, and you could take it and throw it in the trash.

  1. Each year, there are, on average, about 383,000 births in Canada. [Source: StatsCan; 2013:]
  2. About 5-million students are enrolled in public schools in Canada. [Source: StatsCan; 2012:]
  3. There are about 445,000 teachers working in public schools in Canada. [Source: StatsCan; 2013:]

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