It’s the Examination System That’s Obsolete

Special Focus : Can We Have Education Without Teachers?
Designing an Effective Training Program October 12, 2013

Teachers Need to be Free to Enable New Kinds of Learning

The teaching profession as we know it is obsolete because it caters to an examination system that was created to serve the needs of another time. 

Most national curricula for children consist of outdated norms from the last century. These include excessive emphasis on spelling, grammar, cursive writing, multiplication tables and mental arithmetic. These skills were needed and valued in the last century, mostly for clerical work. Today the proponents of these subjects claim that they improve mental capabilities of children. I have not found any evidence of this. 

The examination system requires learners to answer questions on paper, using handwriting. The learner must be alone and not in any communication with anyone. The learner must not use any assistive technology other than a pencil, and perhaps a ruler, namely, technology from the 18th century.

In order to cater to the needs of such examination systems, teachers, good or bad, need to use teaching methods from 18th century consisting of rote learning, drill and practice and negative reinforcement.

After the school years, when the erstwhile learner enters the real world, he is expected to solve problems using the Internet, to collaborate with others while solving problems, to type rather than write by hand, to use calculators and not their minds to calculate, to use spell checkers and grammar checkers while typing, and so on. 

In other words, the learner is asked to do the opposite of what he did in school. 

On the other hand, we know that: 

  1. Good teachers usually like well-paid jobs in rich schools. They don’t, usually, go to remote or poor or dangerous places. In other words, they don’t go to places that need them the most. 
  2. Groups of children can learn to use computers and the Internet, no matter who or where they are, or even what language they speak in. 
  3. Groups of children can learn many things, indeed almost anything, by themselves, using the Internet and discussion. This happens provided there is no adult supervision. 
  4. It is possible to ‘beam’ teachers over the Internet using, for instance, Skype. It is possible to have teachers control a robot in a remote location where they cannot go.   
  5. Groups of children can research subjects years ahead of their time. Doing so seems to improve their reading comprehension.  

The examination system needs to be changed to include collaborative problem solving using assistive technology. If this is done, teachers will be free to enable learning in newer ways. 

This has to happen. There is a generation that uses assistive technology, particularly the mobile tablet phone, all the time, except when they are in school. They learn continuously from these devices.

There is powerful resistance to these ideas. The resistance comes from an older generation with a subconscious desire to return to the 1920s, a time that they believe was the best the world ever had. 

They have understood my statement ‘children need not be taught spelling’ as ‘children should not learn spelling’. Similarly for grammar. 

People who use spell checkers don’t misspell all the time. If they misspell a word once, they tend to spell it right after the spell checker corrects the mistake. In other words, assistive technology becomes a learning tool. This is true of many different kinds of assistive technology. If you use a GPS navigator to go to a place once, you are unlikely to use it again to go to the same place, because you have learned how to get there. If you use YouTube to cook a dish once, you don’t use it again to cook the same dish, because you have learnt how to do so. 

Children, and possibly adults, using a spelling or grammar checker will continuously learn spelling and grammar in a painless and functional way. This will free up teaching time of teachers, who can then use this time to focus on more conceptual issues that technology cannot, as yet, address.

Younger people are uniformly appreciative of these ideas. ‘U R cool’ texted one. 

Now that is poor grammar. He should have texted ‘I appreciate your point of view and consider it refreshing’. That would be the ‘right’ grammar, the grammar of the early 20th century. Anything older would also not be ‘right’. For example, ‘Sir, ye be right, aye’ would be considered rather odd. Who has decided that early 20th century English from Oxford is the only ‘right’ English? 

It is the middle-aged generation that has created devices with tiny keyboards that make typing almost impossible. The younger generations have responded by creating a whole new SMS language that solves the problem. They should be applauded for it. 

If you answer an examination using Shakespeare’s English, you would fail. If you answer an examination in texting language, U would fail. There is something wrong with a world that considers Shakespeare’s English as inappropriate as texting language. 

The examination system is obsolete and so are the teachers who are forced to cater to it.