Lessons from the Developing World

I am a fan of Charles Leadbeader, he changed my way of thinking after I came across his book ‘Living on Thin Air’ which discussed in much detail how the world is now operating on the ideas and thoughts of people; intangible assets or intellectual property if you like, that is worth more to the world than tangible assets are.

In any case, I came across one of his talks on TED which tied in a lot with some of the ideas that reinforced my own ideas on educational and the need for its global reform. I would urge you to have a look at this TED lecture:

Leadbeater gave this talk in 2010; in the education world that’s a long time, however, he makes very interesting points that are unfortunately still relevant and need to be addressed today.

One quote stuck out for me:

“… children, in the right conditions, can learn on their own with the help of computers” – Charles Leadbeater

What’s interesting is that Leadbeater’s study didn’t focus on the developed nations of the world that promote use of technology and are at the forefront of educational and technological development. Rather he focuses his attentions more towards the developing world and sees how necessity and the desire to learn has allowed individuals and organizations to become successful within education.

Push and Pull factors are an interesting way of looking at how education works within the developed world and the developing world. Leadbeater establishes that here in the west we are pushed to study and do well, whereas education in the developed world needs to be such that is pulls the students in so that the students have a reason to study. Shouldn’t this be the case in the developed world too? Have we adopted a “study or else!” culture where students only study because it’s an expectation of them rather than studying to fulfill a particular desire or need?

Something that I have argued for a long time is that pumping money into an education system isn’t really the way to improve a school’s overall performance. Sure you can improve the school’s facilities, make it a place where students may feel more comfortable studying and teachers more comfortable teaching, but do we really need to pump excessive amounts of money into schools in order for them to do well? (Another gripe of mine is that despite the billions that are invested in education, my pay as a teacher never seems to go up… but that’s another discussion).

You only need to look at the caliber of the graduates coming out of places like India (the world’s largest producer of graduates) to appreciate that students in India do not have access to the same quality of facilities and educational technology as the UK or American systems do, but they still manage to produce good quality graduates at all levels of their education system. We can again link this success to the student’s desire and need to do well as no education in India usually means no job, money, respect or social status. What is the need of our ‘developed’ students? Perhaps that’s a discussion that some teachers can have with their classes (it would make a very good starter!).

From my experiences, many schools are under pressure from external factors to implement a range of facilities to improve standards and ultimately grades; in my opinion it’s the drive to push up grades (as a direct response to things like the Global Education Reform Movement; no I’m not a huge fan!) that has made schools enforce more of the push and less of the pull that Leadbeater talks about.

It is clear that context based and thematic learning does indeed seem to be the way forward. This allows students to have a reason or purpose to actually study. For example, In Finland (a country that is usually used as a benchmark for good educational practice), students have many of their early lessons outside where they learn outdoor crafts and physical activities to get them to be familiar with their surroundings; a need to be able to live and operate outside drives their learning.

So what have we got wrong in the British/American (besides others) systems of education? Well I think we need to stop obsessing about grades and results and focus more on the development of the student (isn’t that what education is about?) – Sure, grades are important and very good indicators of how well a student has performed, but I feel that grades should be a positive side-effect of the learning process that show how much a student knows rather than how much the student can regurgitate – Micheal Rosen is able to highlight this issue fantastically in his Guide to Education which I think is a must read for all involved in the education process (I actually have this printed off and put up in my classroom where I teach!)

“You have to engage people first before you can teach them” Charles Leadbeater

Ultimately when the student wants to learn, that learning can be facilitated by teachers and educators, but as Leadbeater highlights, it isn’t always possible to have students accessing this facility, especially in the developing world

“How do you get learning to people when there are no teachers?”

In the developed world, we shouldn’t have a problem. Educational technologies are readily available, most students now carry mobile electronic devices and have access to a computer. What schools should be investing money in are the resources that educators can use to collaborate and share good practice as well as technologies that students can use even in the absence of an educator to learn effectively. We as teachers have held the hands of our students for too long, it is our duty to promote independent thought and allow students to make informed choices about their learning based on their needs, and nurturing their positive motives; not the desire to become another school-wide statistic used to show how brilliant pass marks can be at the school.

I would like education to return being just that; knowledge that precedes a positive action through understanding. This understanding can only be established if the student is motivated and there is a need for them to know what they want to be able to achieve through education. Grades and certificates should be used to show that a student is competent in a given area, not that s/he is able to learn to the test and fulfil a school’s ultimate goal of looking good in front of parents, governors and other external stakeholders.

Education+Technology = Hope

In conclusion we are very lucky to have access to resources that others don’t. we must educate our students and allow them to become independent learners through need and exploration. We should embrace newer technologies and be prepared to take some risks as teachers and not always have to worry about grades as if we educate and motivate the child properly through correct investment in resources and exposure to technology, then the grades will inevitably follow…

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