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How is learning, by definition, affected by the current education system? Positive/negative effects?

I have a conflicted view on the current education systems that are available.I am a new parent and cannot help but wonder just how great of an effect an educational system will end up having on a child. This has led me to explore some questions and I would like to know what is currently taking shape out there that addresses this concern. I am curious what solutions and ideas people in the Ted Community have tried professionally, and to hear from successful outliers who have taken their own path of education and learning.

- What methods have failed and why?
- If you have a successful model what is/was/could it be limited by?
- Should the model for learning and thinking be as linear as it is?
- Is there any proof that the current system is the most effective?
- Are standardized tests learning aids, and do they encourage or discourage growth?
- If you have been extremely successful, without attending College, High School or any other traditional means of education, what were the most important moments during the age of 15-25 that determined your success or failure?
- Are innovators, creators and independent thinkers encouraged in the current educational landscape?

I look forward to exploring this topic with those who are interested in it.

  • Dec 18 2013: One could write a phd dissertation of the subject and questions you've asked.

    One thing is very important, too often overlooked in the rush to come out with "new ideas" which is;

    1) We as a society have to remember, if those "new idea" don't work, a generation of children will first and foremost - pay the cost.

    2) Later it will then become society's turn to pay the cost - because those children will no longer be at school.

    In a rush to get a any solution to the problem today (which honestly should have been looked at a long time ago) we might just end up make things a whole lot worse.
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    Dec 11 2013: I'm an ex-teacher. i got sick of the blanket approach to education (by that i mean a one-size fits all approach to everything) and the meaningless paperwork that does next to nothing to improve the actual learning environment.

    here's my take on modern education:

    - just as no method is foolproof for every learner there is no method that completely fails. it's about identifying learning styles and selecting the best fit.

    - i don't like the concept of models. i understand that they are there for convenience and guidance but all too often, everything becomes focused on the model instead of the learner. although it's good to be on the lookout for new ideas that may help bridge gaps, always approach a model with a healthy dose of skepticism.

    - you can find studies with results that back both sides of every argument - the current systems are designed to manage logistics and this is a necessary thing because parents work all day and kids require supervision. at the same time, battery-hen style education is obviously not going to be the most effective method for educating our next generation. until classrooms and schools are increased and the teacher/student ration is lowered, schools will be required to mass-educate.

    - standardised testing is the chain and anchor that hold back curriculum delivery and learners alike. at the heart of this lies the issue of one-size fits all blanket measurement and how artificial and invalid and irrelevant that kind of assessment can be. again, the focus often falls on the assessment method and not the learner and that's a problem.

    i always remember what a colleague told me in my first teaching job - you can't fatten a pig by weighing it. good words to guide any educational body.

    also this, from George Santayana - "a child educated only at school is an uneducated child".

    but change is afoot!
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    Dec 16 2013: Hi Keith:

    I think that you are the one who can have the greatest effect on your child, since parents are children's first teachers. The way you behave, you talk, you treat to others, and your philosophy on life can influence your child greatly. Thus, I think that what you should concern most is not whether the education system works or not since it won't be changed in a short period of time, the thing you should concern most is whether you are a good parent and improve yourself if the answer is not. Moreover, as Robert Galway mentioned in the comment, teaching them how to love is really really important.
  • Dec 15 2013: Keith,
    Congratulations and good luck. There are many good thoughts already presented but let me add a few of my own.

    1. Read to them early and often
    2. Let them see you read, they will emulate you -
    3. Give them time to be children
    4. Play number games, cards where they have to think and count
    5. Research the school district and make a decision which one you want to help you educate your children
    6. If necessary, home school or private school
    7. Be a part of the educational process even if the school, teachers, and administrators are against you.
    8. Do not be a helicopter parent and let them succeed or fail on their own.
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      Gord G

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      Dec 17 2013: "7. Be a part of the educational process even if the school, teachers, and administrators are against you."

      Teachers, and administrators aren't against parents. They're for the education of the parent's child.

      At times that means teaching a child contrary to what the home environment has instilled in the child. Unfortunately, it's easier to blame the professionals than to engage in difficult introspection. Negative coping strategies passed from generation to generation can severely hamper learning.

      I'm not saying it isn't important for parents to be involved in their child's education, but I think they need to realize being involved also means considering their role in their child's education.
      • Dec 18 2013: Gord,

        Unfortunately, I must disagree. There are teachers that are professional but there are those that are not. The unprofessional teachers ruin children. Today, there seems to be no way to remove these type of teachers.

        You do not know how many times I have been told by those unprofessional teachers they know more because they have a degree in education when I ask them a question. They refuse to answer. Let me give you an example, my son figured out a better way to do a problem in chemistry. He used his method, showing the work and the teacher lowered his grade because it was not the method taught in class. I went to a colleague who got his phd in chemistry from cal tech and taught at Berkeley. He said my son's method was correct and the one taught in class was bad technique. When presented by this, the chemistry teacher refused to discuss this.

        I have heard teachers refer to parents as worthless cookie providers and they should not be listened or talked to.
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          Gord G

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          Dec 18 2013: I understand your frustration Wayne.

          I wasn't suggesting the education system doesn't have any professionals that perform below acceptable levels. Like all professions, quality varies. But I think the majority of education professionals work hard in a system that doesn't always support them.

          I can't comment on your experience, but a teacher must deal with a broad cross section of people with a multitude of expectations and limited understanding. A curriculum is an extended plan of instructional content, materials, resources, and processes for evaluating the attainment of educational objectives. And the interrelationship of objectives isn't always self evident.

          What often happens is a parent will intercede on a particular assignment without considering the overall learning objectives of the class. Getting the right answer is only a portion of what's being taught. Micro managing a child's education isn't productive. There has to be a degree of trust.
      • Dec 18 2013: Teaching the wrong method is never right
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          Gord G

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          Dec 18 2013: I agree.

          But I also think if a parent marginalizes a teacher in the eyes of their child, they run the risk of compromising their child's overall education. And at times this happens simply because the parent is acting out on past issues in their education.

          For example, I know a teacher who had to remove a disruptive child from her classroom so the other students could work. This student had a long history of disruptive behaviour that demonstrated a lack of respect for the teacher and other's in the room.

          When the parent teacher interviews were conducted, the boy's rather large father came to the interview and preceded to bully the teacher...criticizing her for removing his kid from the classroom. If asked, I'm certain the father would have thought he was defending his kid...rather than teaching him how to be a bully.

          It's not that we shouldn't question what is being's that we should first question our own biases.
      • Dec 18 2013: that was my point 8 for the parent. Your last comment should also apply to teachers and administrators. One teacher I respected gave 2 seniors low grades for not doing the work. I supported him but the administration changed the grades. Another teacher, English, who I did not like but respected, flunked an honor student (agreed again) She was forced to retire.
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    Dec 17 2013: Hi Keith,

    A children's education is a valuable asset, one that is often left for others to dictate what it looks like and how it is delivered. I too have a young child (grade 2 now) and have often questioned the state of our education systems. But much like anything else that is created for the masses - it can only touch the surface of what children need to learn to become successful contributors to society. I am a firm believer that teachers and professional educators are not the only ones teaching our kids - their peers are teaching them and so we are as parents.

    In my opinion it is crucial to understand what is happening in the classroom and playground environments so that we as parents can augment what the kids are learning in the class. By this I don't mean helping with their homework, but spending time with them learning at home - how does your child learn best - what makes them tick, and what gives them the gratitude and feeling of accomplishment.
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    Dec 17 2013: I left school when I was 15 (the legal age here in New Zealand) with nothing. I could blame the schools for judging my infamous family and dismissing me. I could blame my uneducated parents who had no concept of 'breaking the cycle' and stayed completely away from our schools (inluding sports, parent teacher meetings and there was never any mention of homework). But what I lacked in education, I rapidly amassed in experience and was a Department Manager at 18, a Branch Manager at 30 and an Operations Manager at 40.
    After being one of the multitudes of CVs being submitted for every job advertised here and not even getting rejection letters, an HR Manager confirmed my suspicion that they start the cull with any CVs that don't show a degree. This means that everytime I go for a role, I have to hope for the foot in the door then almost always make my way up the ladder very quickly.

    I wouldn't say that I'm overly successful (yet!) but I've found that the other things my parents DID teach me have been much more valuable. Learning manners, respect for elders and authority, sensitive honesty, initiative and non-judgement, to name a few, are the qualities I value most in myself and these have served me profoundly well in workspaces meaning that I've developed a reputation for integrity.

    As a parent , I started reading to my children immediately, asking them questions and giving them time to think and answer. We had fun as we counted stairs, identified neighbours plants, dogs and cars on our walks, looked at maps when we were going anywhere and pulled things apart. My son is now an Engineer and my daughter an Accountant.

    I would have liked to learn how to learn, master retention and been given the gift of goal setting and achievement and these are what TED have given me. I've learnt more in the last year than I have in the previous 46 years.

    My suggestion...find out what your childs learning style is, maximise it then when they're old enough, share this info with them.
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    Dec 17 2013: Hi keith,
    In India our education system is like that "So,you are different types of animal(Snake,Fish,Elephant,Monkey,Lion) , but i don't have an issue,Everyone must climb the tree to success the exam"
  • Dec 16 2013: Keith,

    Help them learn to learn while effectively performing at 'any game'.

    In a way the current education system focuses on industrial processing raw materials through a teaching process, the thing is that each student is a singular unique gem crystal learner that needs to be carefully nurtured and polished... so rather than focus on teaching them students, educators need to nurture learning by them students... and learning how to learn is a critical key... in a way school is a playground where students go figure out the teachers rules and then learn to excel in the game just remember that there is also a real life outside academia... which involves other kinds of learnings ... to socialize... to deal with them bullies... and friends... to collaborate... to lead... to play... to learn.
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    Dec 16 2013: The current education system is a failure. It is a corruption of an already archaic system. The current model exists to make people useful workers for the industrialized economy. It makes them complacent and easy to control. Regarding your question on standardized testing, they force teachers to teach to the tests and give little to no flexibility. They do not produce useful results in actually learning material.

    I have a short book on the topic. It addresses the basic corruption of the education system by corporate/elitist interests, and gives some ideas for improvement.

    In general, as I've mentioned with other posts, I am an advocate of learning through play and learning through doing. Engage them. Help them become interested in learning.
  • Dec 15 2013: The education system provides what the consensus believes to the the set of things most necessary for a the average child to generally survive as an adult. It is constantly changing.

    I think the most important moments are moments spent with the parents where the parents spend time teaching those things that they have found to be needed for survival and success as an adult to children. I think the earlier these lessons are taught the greater their influence.

    Success and failure of different styles and methods is a matter of opinion and highly subjective.

    Some things that I think are good teaching opportunities for kids include:

    1) Spending time with parents, grandparents, and other adult family members and being included in all phases of the the activities. Part of this includes respect for their opinions and demanding they have respect for the opinions of others.

    2) Supplementing whatever education system is available with lessons at home, perhaps focusing on how lessons learned at school could be applied to improve the quality of life.

    3) Trips to museums, science centers, zoos, historic sites, government buildings, concerts, art galleries, libraries and public services.


    5) Turn trips to the supermarket and hardware store into as many teachable moments as possible.

    6) Take apart household appliances before they are discarded to show how they work.

    7) Include children in the maintenance and repair of the home, cars, and appliances.

    8) Teach them how to play chess.

    9) Allow them to contribute significantly to household chores and tasks.

    10) Teach them how to have fun in the outdoors with camping, swimming, biking, hiking, and other outdoor activities.

    11) Teach them the good feeling associated with helping other people in need.

    12) Look for opportunities to learn new skills and crafts together at every opportunity.

    13) Try and grow something that winds up being eaten at dinner.

    14) Teach them the golden rule.

    15) Teach them how to love.
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    Dec 15 2013: depending on which country you are from education and standards will differ....

    i find it interesting that in japan they would develop the personality of the child the first few years of schooling, and not doing ABC & 123
    the effectiveness of teaching is also dependant on the personality of the teacher- i went from A-grade maths to Don't give a damn after i had a teacher regurgitating the textbook from question to solution
    i later experienced this same teaching method with a lecturer which had me losing interest in building...
    i chose science subjects as this would always guarantee and entry into a higher level educational institute
    i then decided a gap year is what is needed...

    my experience in the outside world did not have me looking at schooling but educational tools acquired outside of school... such as self sufficiency and being able to take care of yourself in the real world - and we know there are plenty of people who are not able to look after themselves unless they have a steady job and income
    before high school i was doing academia and art... once i got to high school it was all academics.... not for me, but i had to survive if i wanted to get out....

    at this time already had difficulty picturing myself in an office until the day i died... - what were the most important moments during the age of 15-25 that determined your success or failure?
    for certain disciplines you do need standardized tests learning aids... not that we do not have bogus doctors, lawyers, and other sorts of scavengers out there...
    looking at the gordon institute in australia i like the idea of of being able to attend a "technical college" for those who are not booked...
    also a balance with books and hands on educational choices would be most ideal for students... it allows choice in career and possible innovation

    At this moment i am a custodian of indigenous plant knowledge. it is a non-academic achievement which has me sort after by universities...
    and no i do not
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    Dec 13 2013: Long story short, I find that the current educational system in the United States needs significant improvement. From the personal standpoint of being a "career student" for most of my life, I honestly don't think that school really prepares an individual for life beyond academia. In particular, we are stifling independent thought, innovation, and creativity via "teach to the test" standards due in part to "No Child Left Behind," while severely limiting the opportunities for students to attain viable careers without pursuing advanced degrees and vast amounts of student loan debt.

    If anything, I would model an educational system similar to how the Montessori educational system is structured (, minus the New Age spiritual dogma. I also think that the system should be structured with more of a focus on personality type indicators such as Myers-Briggs ( as well as a student's actual interests and learning style. Essentially, the educational goal should be to provide a student with critical thinking skills and practical knowledge pertaining to the career paths which might appeal to them in later points of their life. Upon graduation, one should be able to attain an entry-level career in the field that they are interested in, and advance their education as necessary.
  • Dec 13 2013: You had me at 'system' in system for the masses. Is elaboration really necessary?

    "Fearing what might happen if left to their own devices, they gave themselves and their children to the devices of others. Somehow that seemed easier."
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      Dec 15 2013: if you had read the question...
      maybe you could have answered instead of condensing and repeating the question....
      • Dec 16 2013: Apologies! :-)
        The current system, as a whole, suppresses potential in human beings and encourages, or perhaps demands, continual deference to external authority......for students AND teachers.
        Great day!
  • Dec 12 2013: First, let me say that I agree most of what Scott has said in his post. In addition to the quote about George Santayana: "A child educated only at school is an uneducated child", I would raise a supplement point that a child trained at the kindergarten or prekindergarten makes him/her less capable to learn later on. This is because a child, before the age of six, will respond better to the parent in either learning or behavior than to the teacher with divided attention to him/her due to the attention needed by other children in the class. Even though the class size in these "care-taking" places are usually small, but the children there require much more attention and assistance than ,say, a 7 year old or older. Furthermore, when the mother has time to take care of the child, most of them would prefer to keep the child with her. Those who want the kindergarten or the nursery to just "babysit" their child(ren), most likely left the child(ren) less disciplined, so these children are probably not quite the model, or helpful, classmates for a well trained child. In other words, personally I would prefer home schooling for children before 6 years old.
    Now let me offer my personal experience. I left school at age of 14 due to the financial difficulty of my parents, and worked as a trainee for a modern paper manufacturing co. I liked to study and learn everything interesting at my spare time from the full time work. I did study all the topics including the basic knowledge in reading,writing,mathematics (including calculus) and physical sciences and foreign languages too. Then I was able to pass 3 or 4 tests to qualify myself, without diploma, to be admitted to the graduate school in a university in the U. S. To me, I believe that perseverance and hard work are the most important ingredient for learning. Of course, school life is needed for most people, it wouldn't hurt.
    Also, my daughter home schooled her daughter and started her in first grade and she did extremely well
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      Dec 15 2013: an undisciplined child is the product of the parent not the institute...

      myself and siblings are products of formula milk and babysitting institutions...

      because of our parents we are disciplined - not institutionally disciplined as we are constantly striving to improve our lives to be better people...
      we also have family role models who take no nonsense from children = respect and discipline
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    Dec 11 2013: I was very successful in school. One "secret" is that when I came home I would always do homework first, finish it, then watch television. I imagine most kids watched television first. I ended up getting a Stanford degree.

    Whatever system you choose, try to instill empathy for the teacher in your child. I always felt an empathy for my teachers, if they were working hard to present the material, I ought to work hard to master it.
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    Dec 11 2013: As it seems you are at the beginning of learning about this subject, I can recommend a couple of books well worth a read. One is by Bransford et al, How Children Learn. Another is Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences.

    Both are research-based.

    It is constructive that you think in terms of 'the current educational landscape," because that phrase captures the idea that the state of schooling or education is not a uniform, homogeneous terrain, but rather one with peaks and valleys, mountains and rivers, and that it is ever-changing