Saturday, September 27, 2014

We need only one reform in education

Almost everyone involved in education wants to be a 'reformer' to show how the current education system does not work, and how his 'reform' of education can solve the problem. Some try to nudge the system by adding 'practical ways' of teaching - like experimental education, project based schooling - while some try to shift the education system introducing standardised curriculum. Some try to follow a modern route and claim that 'technology' can transform the education by using different teaching systems.

But very few educationist are willing to admit the basic flaw in the current education system: that the education system is basically 'coercive' and one cannot learn if one is coerced to learn. You can take horse to the water, but cannot make the horse drink. Imagine helping your child to learn something, say addition of fractions. You can make him/her sit on the desk, but cannot ensure that the child learns ' addition of fraction' if you sit and teach the child. In education, one can 'enable' learning to happen, one cannot make it happen.One can teach someone, but one cannot however ensure that the person learns.

One can teach someone, but one cannot ensure that the other person learns.

In short, the current 'coercive' education system cannot work, whatever tinkering one does with it. It needs just one basic reform: Change the education system to 'non-coercive' so that the students and kids take charge of their own learning. 

If the education system is coercive, nothing will work, because we are coercing child to sit even when he is not willing or ready. Periods and sequence are fixed. Group teaching further thwarts any discussion on the subject. Without ensuring basic willingness of the child, better technology will not enable learning. Good intentions won't help. Effective learning philosophies will not be useful. Better curriculum won't ensure learning. Experimental method of teaching won't work.

On the other hand, if the education system is non-coercive, it will work, because we learn only when we want to learn. If the answer is so self-evident, then what is the basic challenge in setting up a non-coercive system of education? It faces three design challenges. 

1. Non-coercive education needs a robust design of curriculum and 'teaching tools': Coercive system is structured, systematic and ensures control. The perception of control is important for both educators and parents. Non-coercive system, because it depends on the voluntary efforts of students, cannot lend this feeling of control. Parents are worried that "if their children do not produce voluntary effort, what will happen to their lives"? Educators cannot take money from the parents for the education of their children if they cannot ensure that the child learns. What structure can offer both the benefits :control for the parents and educators, and freedom for the students? 

2. Non-coercive education also requires assessment to correct the progress of student: Because of the structured system of Coercive education, students can easily be assessed, compared, and then hopefully shown the path of correction based on their grades. We now know that we have abused this system of grading so much that it is now ruling the 'process of education'. Progress in non-coercive education is difficult to assess. Because every individual is growing at a different rate, it cannot be compared. One therefore requires a different 'benchmark' for assessing a child's progress in non-coercive education, if the system has to flourish in the current educational system.

3. Non coercive education requires active partnering from the parents : Currently, in the coercive education system, parent can outsource education to the 'school educators' and let them do whatever they deem fit. In non-coercive education, parents cannot take this approach of 'outsourcing'. They need to partner with the school, understand the progress of their child, fill the gaps themselves when the school cannot tackle the needs of their unique child. In short, parents need to participate more actively with the school educators. Both school educators and parents need to work together to create a mechanism for mutual coordination and control.


It is not difficult to design these three elements of non-coercive education system. We already know of two such systems which are well proven. Montessori system is one such design. For more information on Montessori design, see these details. Another well tested system is of Greenberg's Sudbury Valley school which started in 1968 and is therefore equally tested.

In other words, the design is available to launch a non-coercive school anywhere in the world. Do we have the educators who have the gumption to take the challenge? Or do we have enough caring parents who would walk a mile to help their children?

Update after the post

1. Here is an update of Fairhaven school which uses Sudbury valley system method ( democratic school)
2. Here is an interesting differences and similarities between democratic school and other models like Montessori and  Waldorf.

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