TED Conversations

Shahzad Alam

Program Coordinator, New Era Teacher Training Centre

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Schooling must develop in the students the capabilities required for being engaged in a life-long process of learning.

We are at a very critical juncture in history. We have resources available to us unimaginable in the past- financial resources, knowledge, technology, human resources, wealth of experience etc. We are also facing crisis very unique to our age. Everything we thought we knew about ourselves and our universe is constantly evolving and/or changing.

The most important role schools can play now is to prepare individuals who know how to learn and who take ownership of their own learning and development of the society around them. The schools themselves need to be in the process of constant learning and they also need to learn to create environment where individuals can learn to learn- both individually and collectively.

The question to ask ourselves are: what changes are required in the structure of schools? How can schools start focusing more on capacity building rather than information accumulation? What kind of environment encourages ownership in learning? How can schools be themselves involved in learning?


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  • Nov 12 2013: Curiosity is part of human nature. Schools don't need to teach children to learn -- they need to allow it.

    That said, if the sole purpose of school were to encourage learning, it would have to be completely redesigned. Mandatory courses, schedules, age-based sorting would all have to go. It would be like an academy in the ancient sense, or a noisy library, where students come to learn and socialize and collaborate and take elective classes without any official structure. In fact, there are schools like this today -- search up "Sudbury school" and "Democratic free school" on Wikipedia.

    (In an ideal situation, any degree of compulsory attendance (even, for example, being required to spend a number of unscheduled hours per week at school) would be unnecessary. From a young age children could be socialized into the "culture of learning," being sent by their parents to some kiddie-academy, so that when they are older they will go to the real academy -- which would contain a few outlets of entertainment, not just studying -- voluntarily.)

    However, the main purpose of modern schools is not to enlighten individuals, but to benefit the national economy. This purpose hasn't change since the Industrial Age, when compulsory state education was first conceived. The meaning of "benefit the economy" has changed slightly, as businesses of the Digital Age value creativity more than those of the past. Nonetheless, it's clear that public schools exist primarily to accustom individuals to a working life.

    (RELATED TALK: http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.html)
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      Nov 13 2013: How can the schools "allow" learning? What does it mean in practice? Also what should be the "purpose of learning"?
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        Nov 13 2013: The purpose of learning is to make sense and understand--then it's up to the learner how and when to use their knowledge.

        You might check out the work of Harvard Project Zero and Making Thinking Visible for examples of what all this means in practice.

        Alot of those ideas are connected with the practices of early childhood education in Reggio Emilia, Italy. It's amazing and has been up and running for over 50 years--check it out. I went there once and amazed at how culturally ingrained the idea of the child as competent as a learner and a social being is in their city. Their practices have been adopted by others around the world and so there is a lot written about it.
      • Nov 13 2013: Teaching kids to learn is absurd, given that the urge to learn is natural; allowing learning means not doing anything beyond encouraging it, providing access to educational resources, and occasionally guiding the learner's inquiry.

        Obviously, not all children are eager learners -- that can be knocked out of them through political or religious indoctrination, or by the coerciveness of schools that force in-depth studying of subjects that may not interest them, among other things. But systematically teaching kids to learn is unnecessary if they have access to information, some interaction with adults, and an social environment that embraces intellectualism.

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