Monday, November 15, 2010

EDUCATION: A new model

Andrew D Atkin:

Who said that turning up to a class in a state-regulated institute, and then learning alongside 20+ others to a strictly prescribed schedule/system, was the optimum way to learn? We should remember that, to a significant degree, the only reason why education worked/works the way that it does today is because we once-upon-a-time never had the tools to make it work any differently. Different world! So how should education work today? What is the modern structural optimum?

With the internet as an information/lecture-base there is no need to regulate anyone's education to a given time or timeline - anyone can now learn anything, whenever they want. And there is also (mostly) no need for traditional classrooms, as demonstrated by home-schoolers and also unregulated home-schoolers (unregulated = no state control at all, which is still allowed to exist in some countries.)

Education should also be "organic". It should--because it now can--evolve with the individual. We should learn as we work, and learn what we need to learn as we need to learn it. Education should basically move much closer to the apprenticeship model which is inherently more efficient, because the material is learnt in relation to real-world experiences (and therefore not learnt in a superficial way) and you can (and do) cut back on an enormous amount of irrelevancy.

Most tertiary education should be for only about 6-12 months as an exclusive and preliminary occupation, and then from there the individual should learn alongside the development of their career.

What's more, the line between tertiary and secondary education should be blurred. I see no reason why secondary education cannot specialise closer to vocational training, for those who want it.

Role of the state?

Well, the best thing we can do is acknowledge that there is no need for the state to have any substantial involvement in education at all. Children have proven that they can efficiently learn the fundamentals without government prescriptions. And that's not an opinion, it's a demonstrated fact.

A good reference: Sudbury Valley School

However, there can still be a role for the government in that they could and should provide the basic architecture for an educational information service.

The following is an extract from my "Personal Public Policy Ideals" post, relating to education. I still feel very confident that I have the right model from a state-involvement perspective.

As follows:


Education is the parents and students responsibility.

A child's development belongs to the child - not the state. If anyone has the right to regulate a child's education it is the parent.

Note: To interpret a child as a 'human resource' to be exploited by the state (for the national interest) is to take an extreme social-democratic position. The Liberal party absolutely opposes this outlook, within education in particular. Providing incentives to encourage people to become what would be most attractive for the national advantage can be acceptable in itself, depending on the circumstances. However, using actual compulsion for that objective (as though the state owns the child as their personal resource) most certainly is not.

-The government will test for basic literacy and numerical skills once children reach the age of 10 years. If a child fails the test, then government-compulsion may eventually be introduced for the child of concern. Primarily for the sake of the children, we need to ensure the universal development of these most fundamental skills.

Literacy and numerical skills are so fundamental and unambiguously necessary that the government could consider the neglect of the development of these skills a form of child abuse (though not extreme). Though government intrusion should be kept at a minimum, the government should still do a basic check on children's development, and ultimately take compulsory action if basic skills are not being actualised in reasonable time.

Note: Testing should begin from the age of about 10-12 years. The idea that children specifically need to start developing literacy and numerical skills at the very early ages of around 4-7 years is a proven myth. Children in alternative-education occasionally learn literacy and numerical skills from as late as about 10-13 years, and with sound competence and in good time (late-starting does not generally mean late-finishing). Parents and children should be able to prioritise other aspects of development before the ages of 10-12 years, if they wish. Children almost always learn a subject best when they are personally ready to apply themselves to it.

-The government will provide an internationally standardised testing/qualifications service for those who need formal recognition for their academic development. Individuals must pay for the testing/qualifying process, though only at cost price.

People should have to pay for the qualifications process because that is fair (a qualification is a professional asset) and we need to incentivise people to not bother sitting exams that they will probably fail.

-There is no prerequisite to sit any given test (other than financial payment). An achieved qualification will be dictated by the individuals ability to pass the prescribed test.

A qualification should represent exactly what it is meant to represent - knowledge and skill obtained. Not how, where or when you learned.

-The government will provide an extensive free-to-view educational resources provided online. (This resource may run into the hundreds of millions of dollars to initially develop.)

This provides open and free learning for all people [those seeking a qualification, information, or just satisfying or developing interests] for an almost negligible cost (once established).

The online multi-media format is an exceptionally efficient tool for educational learning, and it is still severely under-utilised. If the government provides a broad online service for free, then that would optimise productivity (by making the service more attractive and therefore more used) and eliminates most administrative costs. The resource should be progressively developed on the bases of critical user-feedback.

Net meeting: The online resource should also be integrated with direct links to relevant tutors, experts and consultants. This way students and professionals can get key information quickly and efficiently. An independent credit system should also be integrated with the site, so users can purchase professional services automatically (no cumbersome transactional processes). With the development of cheap broadband, it should also provide direct links to appropriate documentaries, for where relevant productions can be found.

-Though the state will remove itself from the tax-and-subsidy cycle within education as much as possible, the state will ensure that professional education is affordable for all New Zealand citizens.

As soon as the government hooks itself up to education via a tax-and-subsidy cycle, it takes then liberty to impose conditions to ensure that tax-payers money is "well spent". In turn the government inherits a controlling stake in education which can and does lead to intrusion.

Education for the young is an extremely sensitive (and highly ideological) territory, and indeed there is a lot of controversy associated with government-mandated learning systems today [learning systems that have more to do with mental-conditioning than academic learning]. My point is the room for violation of a child's autonomy and a parents rights through government-imposition is substantial and serious. The government should remove itself from the tax-and-subsidy cycle as much as possible for the immediate and long-term protection of children's and parent's rights.

Note: It pays to appreciate that the tests that we employ to measure educational achievement are based on subjectively-derived parameters, and even the tests themselves have an accuracy and meaning which is ultimately subjectively-interpreted. The science (research-based) that we have today only tells us how to get kids to perform on prescribed tests; it does not and cannot tell us what the tests (and therefore supporting curriculum) should actually be, nor what the tests ultimately represent. In other words, there is no such thing as an authority in education, at least not of the type that could justify prescriptive control over your child's development. It's important to understand that when you buy into someone else's standards in education, then you also, wittingly or not, buy into their subjective ideology. No one has scientific authority to define what somebody else's educational development should be, because correct or ideal educational development is impossible to define (non-subjectively) let alone measure. In a metaphorical nutshell: You can measure someone's ability to perform on an IQ test, but you can't measure their intelligence.

-Government educational establishments will not teach values on a compulsory bases.

It is not the place of the state to teach values, neither directly nor indirectly, excluding of course the most fundamental values which boil down to promoting and enforcing basic respect for others.

Values can ultimately be taught in schools, but only at the parents volition. This also applies to values relating to professional and life-balance priorities (it is for individuals to define for themselves what is 'success' or 'achievement' etc.), and even the value of academic education itself i.e. 'existential values' should also be respected as the student's own concern.

Tertiary education:

-The government will not differentiate between the tertiary sector and other educational sectors. Tertiary education subsidies will be reduced to only what is certainly required for the national economic advantage.

A tertiary student has no more right to demand "free" education than the tax-payer has the right to refuse to pay for it. However this position should not intimidate tertiary students. Tertiary education (like all education) does not need to cost much for students who are prepared to learn independently (or in independent study-groups).

-To win a qualification students only need to pay for the testing process. Contrary to the status quo, there will be no instituted forced-dependency on educational service-providers, and likewise there will be no forced-expenditure. Most educational programmes will be freely available online.

With the presented policies, most students will in fact have far greater freedom to learn in their own way and time, and ultimately at much lower personal cost relative to the way that they usually must learn today. And of course, when they enter the workforce they will not be paying (much) for other people's education through their taxes.

Early childhood education:

-There will be no specific policy relating general early childhood education. However, young children will be subject to compulsory periodic evaluation [possibly every 6 months for under 5 year-olds] to check for gross developmental problems and child abuse. Compulsory measures may ultimately be enforced if serious issues are identified.



Funding note:

We are always being told that education should be "free". But as I like to say..."If eduction were free then we wouldn't have to pay for it out of our taxes". Obviously the 'free' mantra is nonsense employed to (apparently) justify state-funding and therefore state-control over children's educational development. The truth is we should relate to children's education in the same way that we relate to their other basic needs. The state should only step in and help out with funding (via the family support system) when it is actually required. Otherwise the government should give parents their tax dollars back, and basically butt out of it. We need to get rid of the manipulative word "free" and replace it with the genuine ideal of just "universal affordability".

But this is so obviously the right thing to do, is it not? So why doesn't education funding work like this already? A good answer is that we have a voting army of thousands of primary and secondary school teachers, not to mention the subsidised tertiary sector. The bigger the public service gets, the more politically difficult it becomes to reform it (ask France!).

And this is why the general public needs to stop passively listening to the (naturally) self-serving teaching profession, and likewise insist on the comprehensive destruction of their effective monopoly rights over children's education. It's only the right thing to do!


Addition: 21-11-10:

The public never voted for government control over their education systems. Yet we have it and we (now) accept it. Most of us send our kids to this thing we call school to have their educational (and don't forget social*) lives dictated to by the state, and usually we allow this without even batting an eyelid over it.

In principle this situation is extraordinary, because education as we know it is, by default, a truly profound invasion on the individual by the state.

We have been successfully conditioned into believing (assuming) that it is naturally the way things should be. So what else have we been (or can we be) sucked into believing, over time? Who knows. Maybe just about anything?

*Social note: Is it not perverse that the state dictates so much your child's (non-family) social life, via forced associations/non-associations within the schools? More stuff that we surely should never have accepted?
May I be emotive?...The arrogance of any individual/organisation to believe that they have the right to control the parameters of your (and your child's) social life! To me, this current "normality" of government-directed forced-associations is actually quite disgusting.

Another thought: How much of this thing we call "peer pressure" ultimately revolves around the fact that a child cannot get away from those other people who may enforce conformity-conditions onto them that they would rather not have to tolerate, if only they had the choice? We talk so freely about the social pressures young people are subject to and the issues associated with it...So how about also talking about the people who create those (intrusive) social pressures in the first place?


Addition: 12-6-11:

Real learning:

Imagine I got you to learn 100 different words and their meanings, and I then tested you with a test that required that you explain the meaning of each learned word presented to you. You then, say, got 100% of the meanings right.

But would this be an expression of an expanded vocabulary? No.

Your vocabulary is an expression of the words that you naturally use in conversation. They are the words that are learnt as opposed to just remembered. If you only remember the words, as isolated knowledge, then your learning is left sitting on a superficial and frankly useless level of your mind. Yes, that test score might say "100%", but it still only measures what it measures - words remembered, not learnt. Straight A's in bullshit is still bullshit.

With this simple example I'm making the point that every practical person intuitively knows: that you don't learn what you learn until you WORK WITH what you learn, and in a real and natural way. Until then your education will be impotent - not assimilated into your intellectual centre, where it can be applied.

And this is why, like I said earlier, education should evolve with the individual through the development of their career/s. It is far more efficient and effective. Both society and the individual would get so much more bang for their buck if we moved heavily towards the apprenticeship model, which we can now at last do.


Addition: 15-12-11:

The importance of context in learning:

There was an interesting experiment in memory done many years ago, where a group of people were required learn a list of words underwater, with scuba gear. When the group was asked to recall the words on open land they did so poorly as compared to when they went back underwater, and recalled the words from there.

What this experiment showed us is that memory is context-based. When we recall something (that is not yet heavily reinforced) we effectively go back into the context that the original memory was laid down in, and from there we allow our brain to 'regurgitate' the recorded memories. So we go back to the context via imagination. This is what we do when we 'strain to remember' something.

Note: Hypnotism does the same thing, only the imagination--and likewise isolation from the present--is more comprehensive, and so the recall is more detailed and complete.*

I believe that the reason why we don't usually like learning in an academic context, and why most of us find it so tedious and painful, is because the academic context itself is (usually) just not real. So our brain resists it. On a pragmatic level we resist it for good reason; memories need to be linked to the real-world context to be properly retrieved and utilized. And indeed, when is academia interesting? When it is taught in a manner where the information is related to the real world that we know.

Again this reinforces my point that all learning should, as much as possible, evolve with the individual in their proper real-world context. We need to get out of the academic halls of ritualized bullshit and allow learning to become natural again - because we finally have the tools to do it!

*I am suspicious that the difference between someone who is academic and someone who is not is that the academic, psychologically speaking, can "make a home" out of the academic context itself.
I'm speculating, but like with hypnosis an academic disposition could be related to a kind of detachment whereby the mind does not have to compete with a real-world context, of which would otherwise demand the proper association of learned material. In other words, for some people the academic context is the real-world context.
Maybe this is why 'bookish' people often struggle to be practical, and are later dependent on an institutional context to function? They [literally] can't get their minds out of the books?


Addition: 07-03-13:

This is a great video - reinforcing and demonstrating my point about the feasibility of online learning.


Addition: 19-07-13:

Now this is interesting. Google, being a massive company, has done internal research to actually measure (not assume) the real commercial value of tertiary training, relating to their staff. They came to the conclusion, after studying their own data, that grade point average's don't mean anything because they do not correlate to positive professional performance, except to a small degree for people who are fresh out of college. And the latter is a difference that disappears after about 2 or 3 years.

This is the kind of research that should have been done a long time ago. Education is an enormous cost, and the least we should be expecting is scientific study into its value that normalises for cultural assumptions. Of course we had to wait for the private sector to do the obvious. 

What a disgrace that we have spent the last 50 years + heavily subsidising tertiary education (and other) without even trying to seriously determine its real commercial value.


  1. Typically, I tend to have issues with your ideas but this one I'm 100% for. In the US, our current education system was predicated on sorting and placing talent within the structure of an industrialized society. That society no longer exists, yet the sorting system remains.

    As you state, not everyone is capable of learning, to say nothing of achieving within the current model. Many of the children classified within ADD, ADHD and other learning disabilities are done so simply due to lack of options. The eradiation of vocations classes in particular I feel has been ruinous to young males in America.

    Ultimately, the drive to obtain credentials for everyone has rendered many diplomas, degrees and other certifications patently useless as a means of qualifications. A mechanic capable of repairing used cars has a much greater value now than most students who obtain a Bachelor’s of Arts degree these days.

    Unfortunately, the institution of Public Education remains resistant to change in spite of decades of abject failure. The only method I know of for dismantling this power base is a total opt-out by parents. Be it either home schooling or private education, if the number of enrolled students decreases, the reason for public school will also diminish.

  2. Thank you, vandiver49. I also agree with what you say.

    -Feel free to express those 'issues' too. I'm always curious to see what people think.

  3. Tertiary education isnt really education anymore, it's just viewed as a means to an end. AKA an employment with an above average salary.

  4. I agree Mukund - I describe it as a "professional asset". Like you basically say, that's where the meaning begins and ends for most people.

  5. I agree parents and kids are responsible for their own learning or failing to. Government schools to not teach, they prevent learning and program and condition kids. Scar them might be a better word. And teaching our own is far cheaper than what our governments charge us in taxes for doing it. We would save huge amounts.

    What I would like to see communities or small towns do is provide facilities that enable their kids to learn as many skills as they would like, such as welding, carpentry, mechanics, machine tooling, plumbing, etc. We are slaves to professionals and experts because we do not have those skills or the equipment and facilities. If we had them, we would not be dependent on experts and pros, who charge us far in excess of their value and are not fair and can raise their prices at will while we can not raise our who labor by hourly pay.

    Libraries of books might be useful, too. Communities should have their own research centers and cooperate with other such community centers. In this way, honest communication can take place between amateur researchers. Most research today is now hidden, classified or denied. They hinder rather than promote.

    Education should forever remain in the hands of the people and not in a class above them or a government, whose good will we depend on. We depend on no one but ourselves.