Monday, January 22, 2007

Fantasy education system

When I’m feeling threatened I have a habit of dreaming a better reality. Just now I’m feeling very anxious about what drawing pins the govt may be preparing to strew in our happy home ed path. So here’s what my fantasy state would provide in the way of an education system. As the current education system is actually also a system of mass childcare you’d need to sort that out too. I have my own ideas about how that could be sorted but I want to stick with the ‘education’ side of things.

Here’s the first bit of insane dreaming… For this system to work children would have to have their wishes respected. What I mean is that children would take part in this system on their own terms – no compulsion, just opportunity. And perhaps even more bizarrely, adults of all ages would be involved too. This would, of course, entail a massive change in our world. But this is my dream so it can happen…

All the school/college buildings and resources would become part of a new set up of education centres. These centres would have fantastically well-equipped libraries, with computers with reliable high speed internet access. They would be open 24 hours. There would be lab facilities, drama studios, music studios, art studios, kilns, tv studios – all kinds of great kit. At these centres people would offer courses, anything from a couple of hours to five years, sharing what they know and love. Or people would form groups to learn co-operatively. People offering to teach/share their knowledge would be as clear about the style of teaching and learning involved as the content of the course. People forming groups to learn (whether with a teacher/instructor/leader or not) would agree together the level of commitment required to be part of the group.

The groups forming and re-forming in these centres could be totally mixed age – cooking for all ages, or an introduction to knitting. They could be quite broad – sharing favourite novels. Or they could be very narrow in focus – Doctor Who between 1976 and 1977! They could be indoors, or out. They could be open ended and exploratory, or they could be project based – like building a tree house.

These centres would also be open and friendly to people who just don’t want to learn in a group at all. The libraries would be a haven for people who need some peace, some time, some space. (Because this is my fantasy the libraries would not, repeat NOT, include jolly music and singing groups for toddlers!) There would be total acceptance of people’s differing needs and all adjustments necessary would be made to enable people to participate in any activity they chose.

I don’t dream these education centres as totally ‘free space’ as I have been involved in too many groups of one kind or another to think that would work! They would have a full admin and maintenance staff as well as librarians, an IT team, cleaners, catering staff, and so on. What I’m not sure about is the ‘teaching staff’ side of things. I really do value the skills and expertise of others who have taught me various things over the years. I don’t have a problem with people making a living teaching (good job really, or I wouldn’t have eaten as a child!), and yet… I suspect that as long as we do have such a career, people will find themselves enmeshed in all the power structures of teacher/pupil. Hmmm, have to think that one through more.

Children would be involved in these centres as much, or as little, as they chose. They could sign up for groups and courses every day if they wanted. They could turn up for the first time at the age of ten. Or they could come and go over the years, picking and choosing different courses or groups. They would be expected to be able to make a commitment (appropriate to their age and level of understanding) if they got involved in group activities. Adults would value and support them and help them work out the challenges of doing so. If children wanted to take a lead in teaching or sharing their knowledge with a group this would be totally unremarkable. Being a child wouldn’t mean being cast forever in the role of person who knows nothing and so must wait to be taught…

One of the constants in these centres would be the provision of basic teaching/skill sharing in literacy and numeracy for anyone of any age. I suspect that this would be far less necessary than it is today if society were not attempting to get all five year olds to read, write and do sums. But it would be there, no pressure, no judgement.

If people were at a point in their life where they were looking for a job, they could produce a portfolio, using the resources available at the education centres. These would be used in place of qualifications. They might take any number of different forms, a blog, a website, a magazine, a book, a film, a recording of some sort – whatever worked best for that person. The aim of the portfolio would be to distil, as much as possible, the skills, achievements, passions, experiences, and so on of an individual. This would be a far better way of working out if someone was suited to a job, than exam passes.( Of course there is more scope for employers to exercise prejudice but this is a much more evolved world so people won’t need to be hanging on to fearful things like racism or religious prejudice.)

Not too sure where the universities fit in – maybe as specialist learning centres for people wanting to do research in a particular field? Some of the traditions of academia could survive here – like peer-reviewed research. But there wouldn’t be any need for people to go to university just for the sake of a bit of paper after some years of writing essays.

Of course, it couldn’t happen. The whole thing is one mega-silly fantasy. You couldn’t do half these things without such a major re-structure of society that the economy would crumble and then there’d be a military coup, and then.... But anyway, it is my dream education system. I’d love to hear what other people dream!


Anonymous said...

I don't think your fantasy is silly at all. I think it's being used in Project-based learning schools all over the world.

Many of these schools are using Project Foundry. It’s a web-based tool for the classroom that builds on the strengths of project-based learning. The tool dramatically reduces overhead for teachers, proactively engages students, and easily aggregates school customized assessments.

Project Foundry captures the process, proof, performance and outcomes of a project to ensure these insightful experiences promote student growth and adhere to educational benchmarks.

Currently used by 30 schools in 10 states, Project Foundry has become the tool of choice to implement project-based learning in schools.

You should check out their website at

Allie said...

Hmmm. Nice plug - and that looks like an intersting thing - but I'm talking about a much more fundamental power shift than one that can be achieved by using a new tool. I don't think you have autonomy when the 'teacher' gets to nose about and 'assess'. I also said quite a lot about freedom to choose when and how to attend and mixed age groups working together. That's not an option in any school in this country.

Gill said...

Allie, I love your idea and I think it will be possible, once day. Alan Thomas (I think it's him? who's done research with Mike F-W?) talks about similar learning centres.

I'd like to see such places open to people of all ages, not just children.

maya said...

ah, i have the same dream. i guess maybe this is one area where the us is slightly ahead?? i know there are many homeschool co-ops around the country with community/recreation centres where kids can take classes, etc. there are also homeschool charter schools where kids can be enrolled and take classes. far from perfect but it's something. i'm curious to hear more about what the govt is up to in england around home ed...