Sprinters or Marathon Runners?

If you want to prepare the world’s best marathon runners, you don’t train them incessantly to run the 100 metres like Usain Bolt ……………….. and then ask them to simply do that 420 times in succession!

So, why are we so foolish as to treat children’s preparation for life beyond school and college as a series of sprints from one test or examination to the next, from one textbook chapter to the next, from one ‘portion’ of learning (facts) to the next? Part of the blame can be placed firmly on the ‘data obsessed’ who believe if they can just garner enough data about the learning progress of an individual child, cohort or population, then they can devise the perfect learning.

But perfect learning of what? For what?

So, if the child develops obedience, subservience and the willingness to memorise large amounts of facts and reproduce them in exams….. what kind of a preparation for life is that?

As educators, when we are confronted with such weight of evidence about the harm done, why do we continue?

Parents, as lay people with a lot of apprehension, misunderstandings and relying on past ways (and instinct) can be excused when they get things wrong. Now, I’m sure there are masses of educators who would protest and just simply claim that they’re giving people what they want. I say shame on them. They are to education what junk food pedlars are to child nutrition.

One particular area of note is the idea that if you want to get better results from education and teaching – start it earlier. Do more of the same stuff at ever earlier ages and ‘force feed’ the children earlier. Ironically, they don’t know to fight back at that age and so we see massive inappropriate attempts to force the wrong learning at the wrong times. Let’s not forget, we’re operating in environments where kindergarten starts at age 3 years 8 months (much to the annoyance of some parents who wish it had stayed at 3 years) Well, here’s an article to make them think:

Washington Post Article – Delaying Kindergarten to Age 7

Just, wow! here is evidence that challenges the American practice of starting these children at age 6 and here we are rushing to do reading and writing at age 4 or earlier. Now, cynics will come up with other arguments;

a) Our children are different to children in Western developed countries. (Proof, please)
b) Look at the success stories who have come out of the Indian education system and now head prominent US and Silicon Valley companies. (You know the one about ‘one swallow doesn’t a summer make’? This is not proof of anything, other than the fact that a few, very few happen to have brains and dispositions that enable them to come out of this situation positively. The fact that the crushing of rocks over millions of years produces a few diamonds shouldn’t mask the fact that it also produces billions of tonnes of worthless rock.
c) The problem isn’t related to the timing of when Early years education commences, but what they’re doing with it. We squeeze more benefit out of an early start!

Well, in answer to the third point – here’s a short piece in which an educator trained in American approaches experiences the contrast of how early years education is approached in Finland:

KQED – Mindshift – Play based Learning

You can’t really measure play. You certainly can’t quantify Joy’. And that troubles those who would choose to take the most inappropriate aspects of the corporate world and strait-jacket the education of children in to inappropriate rigidity. For another day, and another post, i happen to believe that there’s a lot that the education arena should take from the corporate world (e.g. pursuit of excellence, alignment to a common vision and mission, consistency and congruence of standard operating procedures in the administrative arena, sensitivity to the needs of stakeholders, servant leadership).

But, when it comes to the children and their learning we have to start from them, and their needs as young individuals growing in to citizens of the Twenty First Century. We must also acknowledge that when we do this, every one of them, as an individual, deserves to get the best possible learning, growth and development experience from school that meets their needs, where they are and acknowledges that every one of them is a unique individual. We do that through more humanness, better training, skills and motivation levels of educators – not through more data.

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