TED Conversations

Goran Kimovski

Senior Technology Consultant, OperatingDev.com


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What is the true value (if any) of organized schooling?

There are so many people suggesting that schools kill creativity, learning is innate & children can learn by themselves, no real life skills are acquired in the current school system, etc. -- the list is really long! If this is all true and we all agree that organized schooling needs big reform, I think we have to step back and ask the ultimate question about the value of organized schooling!

I make a distinction between learning, education and schooling -- with schooling being an attempt to govern/institutionalize education and education representing formalized learning. I think this is important as often people refer to school as the only place where education happens, ignoring programs like the Khan Academy or not to mention the millions of homeschoolers in US alone. They also confuse education with learning, but Sugata Mitra's child-driven education shows that the learning that happens when kids are given tools and left on their own devices is neither formal, nor it can be governed. (He uses the term education tad wrongly, though I suppose with purpose as his is an example of bringing learning and education together.)

I would like to challenge the TED community to think about the value of their own schooling or the value their kids currently in the school system are getting and share their thoughts here!


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    Feb 16 2011: I'll start by answering my own question first ;-)

    I think the value of schooling is in its potential to redefine the institution into a community hub bristling with activities where anyone, not just kids of a certain age, can come and have fun, learn, connect! Hubs like these already exist here in Canada and I believe many other places too -- they're called Community Centres. These are places I go with my family to learn ice skating together, have fun swimming with my kids on a rainy day, provide my daughter with an ability to learn how to play a guitar for an affordable cost, connect with my friends as we're waiting in the hall while our daughters have fun in a rhythmic gymnastic class... It saddens me that we make almost no use of the school -- with exception of the playground -- outside the school hours!

    If schools and community centres merge, I believe there is much that will change by itself for how schooling works. From bell schedule, to age grouping, to subject silos, none of those would work in an activity hub. Teachers, students, parents, the community, they will all have an active role in the kids (and everyone else's) education.

    What do you think?
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      Mar 9 2011: Great idea Goran. Maybe they could replace the temple/church/synagogue/mosque/etc as well. A true universal community center.
      • Liza B

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        Mar 10 2011: There are some models out there that combine what we consider to be traditional school functions and those of community centers. They're called community schools, and they attempt to make schools a space for families, not just students, by providing services like citizenship classes, early child hood family education, English language classes, job trainings and career services, a community library, a parent resource room and more. I know that this is a model that some schools in the Chicago area are trying, but I think it's a movement that is gaining momentum.
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      Mar 12 2011: Goran, I find your ideas really compelling: expanding the notion of school to include a much wider range of activities and community (especially parental) involvement. Not only could this help transform the emotional environment of school for children, but it might also be a better investment of public money and resources.

      One idea I'd like to throw out in answer to your question of formal school value is that students are exposed to a wider variety of subjects than what they might choose to explore on their own. In fact, I see this as the principal danger of plans such as Ken Robinson's where the child is the primary director of their own studies. We all grow and mature when faced with challenges that don't "interest" us (at least not at first!).
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        Mar 13 2011: I agree with thi, and I think it sort of also has to do with the preparation to function in society well i.e. You're not going to have very many opportunities to pick and choose which parts of a job you want to do, and what better way to understand that than to teach it in a safe, educational environment? And to that effect, it is completely true that you never know if you will truly ever dislike/like something until you try it! It keeps our minds open to new things! However, this is all not to say that our current form of education is providing us with pissibly a 'full-bodied' area of study, and perhaps there are improvements to be made in these areas in order to give people a better sense of a fulfilling education?
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        Mar 15 2011: Independent and personal learning (learner-lead, child-directed) does not mean tunnel-vision learning. In fact, it's hard to think of any teacher with a comprehensive knowledge of all subjects.

        With the advent of online collaborative spaces, sharing ideas does not have to wait until its allocated slot in the timetable in a particular place with particular people.

        The trick will be investigating all the opinions and arguments, evidence and theories out there in a way that draws out the relevant and identifies the irrelevant or wildly opinionated or inaccurate.
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          Mar 21 2011: The beauty is the trick is not = The Learner leaders lead themselves to the relevant.

          Reflective Lernerleaderingly,

    • Mar 13 2011: I completely agree-- schools, especially public schools, serve important roles as institutes of education, and also as institutions that gather and bring together the community. I work in a community school in an underprivileged and undeserved community, and see the positive effects that the school, which brings together teachers, staff, health care workers, social services personnel, community members, and students have on the holistic well being of the community.

      I am trying not to resent the above comments that organized schooling may not be necessary. I agree with Sir Robinson that our systems of education need reforms, however, I don't think we can systematically dismiss the good that comes from our public schools. Schools are places of social as well as intellectual learning, and our hardworking teachers are fostering students' creativity within the confines of the American educational system every day.

      I strongly believe that with some creative thinking our public schools can mend some of their mistakes, and foster even more growth among their students.
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        Mar 13 2011: Do you believe the widely-held view that, in America, a child can only get as good an education as his/her parents can afford him/her, is accurate?
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        Mar 21 2011: Ellen, just a clarifying point: Sir Robinson says clearly that school reform is not the answer, total transformation is.
    • Mar 23 2011: I agree about the community centers merging with schools. I find that ad-hoc organizations (which are really just informal gatherings with a general purpose - but no leader) are very effective, both for learning and a variety of other uses. I especially like your use of the phrase "subject silos"

      However something as organic as that cannot be compulsory, which is the biggest problem facing education - how to ensure that everyone receives an education while simultaneously making them want one. As soon as it becomes optional, some will not attend which is a dangerous proposition to a country that wants to entertain the idea of equality in all of its citizens.
    • Jun 25 2011: I love the idea of a community center. I actually discussed having one instead of school and church and all of the other areas of life that segregate society. I beleive they would be more efficient because they would help provide all of the functions all other sociallizing organizations provide, but in one place, so it is more likely for the community to put in a helping hand (that isn't just money), and for the community to accept everyone's differences. Segregating everyone into age groups isn't too different from segregating them based on sex or race. I was much farther ahead of my peers for most of my grade school education, and had they allowed me to further my education by being in a class that was challenging for me, instead of a class that fit my age, I would be even more educated and mature, as well as prepared for the world because I had actually faced a challenge while growing up. *Input that isn't needed follows here* No child left behind is ridiculous, as it tries to put the top of the top with the bottom of the bottom, when children should be able to be in the class based on the education they need, and if they want to be in an even harder class they should be allowed, but if they can not succeed in that class they should be moved down the the next class instead of the teacher just passing them so their own class averages don't drop. The bell curve in education isn't just a theory, it's been proven. Everyone is on a different level, and you can't flatten it out because then some kids get the short end of the stick, and others can't catch up.

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