Last week I went to my grandson's school. They were celebrating 'Grandparents' Day'. He is 6 yrs old and goes to a Montessori school. During the visit, I was asked to look around the classroom. My grandson was very excited, of course, to give me a tour of the class room, explaining where goes what. After the tour, he showed me what he had been learning at school.
The classroom was organized in such a way that there are work materials distributed around the classroom, arranged according to subject area, for example, math, science, English, geography, history and so forth. Students are free to move around the room, working on what they are interested in. Once they decide, they fetch the work materials necessary for the activity and work by themselves or with another classmate. It is all up to the student. Students continue to work as long as they are comfortable with it, without a time limit. I was really impressed to see the enthusiasm and the focus with which the kids were participating in the activities.
Most of you must have heard of Maria Montessori, and her philosophy of education. It emphasizes educating students holistically. Apart from developing students' intellect and academics, her philosophy also focuses on developing skills of socialization, common sense, practicality and individuality. Students are free to do what they would like in the classroom, within the limits that the teacher has set for them (Freedom within limits). In this method, there are no grades. Assessment is by portfolio and the teacher's observation and record keeping.
This made me wonder-could this philosophy of education be adapted at high school and university levels too? Would that make learning more meaningful, allowing students to take charge of their own learning within the parameters set by the teacher? To the extent I am aware of, independent learning/ self-access learning is happening in colleges and universities. An example is cited in my post Anytime, Anywhere Classes: Does a University Need a Campus Anymore? I am sure there are other independent modes of teaching being followed in institutions around the world.
My question now is, can Montessori philosophy be extended to secondary and tertiary institutions? Is this already happening? If not, isn't it worth exploring?
A recent report on Korean education showed that Korean students finished at the top of an OECD PISA test. What's behind their success? Better schools? Better teachers? Better teaching methods? Or , are they just smarter? My hunch is that it's none of the above. Watch this video. It shows how many hours a day Korean students study, how they study, and what motivates them intrinsically to work that hard. It looks like it's their self-motivation, hours and hours of studying combined with pressure from home to compete and do well.
To compare, in America and many other developed countries, students' motivation comes from the freedom they are given to discover themselves, discover their own strengths, explore opportunities and so forth. Their schools emphasize creativity rather than rote learning. Technology plays an important role in achieving this. (watch the video Engage Me cited in my post 'What do 21st Century Learners Want?') Does this suggest that Korean education curbs students' imagination and creativity by following traditional methods? Can we say Korean classrooms utilize technology inadequately?
Aahhh... but just wait! South Korean classrooms may be substituting televisions for computers. But, all that changes once students leave the classroom. Most kids immediately switch on their mobile phones or head to one of the many Internet cafes to play computer games or just surf the net. Fun aside, go to a Korean home. You will be surprised to see the world's fastest Internet connections. After all, if not for computers, how can they get through the Digital Reading Tests? It's no exaggeration that many students spend more time at home using the government-sponsored Cyber Home Learning System than they do using computers at school. But the question is, are these students using technology merely to get high grades?
Let's compare the two situations. In one, students learn through creative, student centered activities where students learn at their own pace without any parental pressure. In the other, students go through long study hours, compete to achieve better grades, both out of their own will and due to parental pressure. Which is better? Why? According to the Global Education Survey, Asians rank at the top 10 in Maths, Reading and Science, where as American kids rank 26th.
Oh...hang on a minute! Are grades alone a measure of success? Is building a strong personality less important than being an A grade student? Considering everything so far said, do you still think parents should be checking up on what their kids learn and how they learn? Or, should they let their kids take the initiative as to what they want to learn and how? Yet again, should it be a combination of both? If so, how?
In fact, a more fundamental question should be--what are these tests measuring? I will leave this up to you to debate!
Alright...now on a less serious note, watch Why Asians are so Smart? Very amusing!
Patri K. Venuvinod
I heard the above statement by Carlota Perez when I watched a recent video clip interviewing her. This is exactly what I was trying to convey in my recent trilogy. I said it many convoluted ways. She said it crisply. There are a few other insights in her interview which are missing in my trilogy. I shall try to make up in the next edition. Meanwhile, I urge you to pay attention to her works.
Guys! Check out this video! ‘Engage Me’ It’s so cool and cute!
Alright, what do 21st Century learners want? They want to be self-reliant, self-confident, be given the freedom to learn what they are interested in and how they want to learn. They have no fear of using modern technology like the iPads or Smart phones. When the grandmas and grandpas are struggling to get them working, grand kids say “wait lemme show you”. They are familiar with blogging, chatting, surfing on the net etc.
Wanna hear something?? My 5 year old granddaughter navigates through the net like a pro and my 3 year old grandson says to his MD mom who is frustrated with dealing with a lost window on her computer screen, “don’t worry mom, I can fix it for you” and he actually did!!
Wanna hear something else?? When my friend, some ten years ago, wanted to learn how to use a computer, but was terrified of touching the mouse, her 12 year old son had to tell her “mum it’s just a plastic mouse…it won’t bite you, you can hold it”
Times are changing buddy, and we better realize that. Kids don’t have to be hand-held nor should be told that learning takes place in the closed boundaries of a classroom, in the presence of a teacher. Students now have the whole world presented to them and knowledge can be accessed through the internet by means of a computer or even through a smart phone!
You know what? It's not necessary anymore that students sit with a teacher showing them how to solve a math problem. Students don't have to sit in a lecture hall with hundred others listening to a lecture by their professor! In this day and age the same thing can happen sitting at home in front of a PC or on your couch with a notebook, or in a restaurant with your Smart phone, or even in the back seat of your car or traveling in the Metro! All you need is a computer and an internet connection. Hey you think I am kidding? Not at all. This is happening right now. A single teacher is lecturing in front of a camera in his/her university classroom and thousands of students from all over the world are listening to it!
Did you know? Stanford Engineering Everywhere (SEE) is offering its Engineering courses free of cost to students everywhere including course materials, quizzes, tests, all at students' convenience. There's more! Check this out too! 'Udacity and the future of online universities'
Sebastian Thrun, of Stanford and Google, or formerly of Stanford, put up his lecture on 'Introduction to Artificial Intelligence' online. 160,000 students from all over the world enrolled for it. There were more students form Lithuania alone than there were from Stanford! Ooh yesss way Jose! It's all true. That's the power of technology! Is that amazing or what!
Here's something else! Has anyone heard about the technological innovation by Khan Academy? Whoa! What an awesome job Khan! Khan Academy developed thousands of online videos on math, history and science. Take a look!