Zoom by Education
What we can learn from the lockdown
In the mornings, around 8:57am, I would sign in my 4 year old daughter to her Google classroom and start her meeting (before rushing upstair to my own meetings). She goes through her hellos and within a few days knew exactly how to unmute herself to start talking and soon even understood how to enter breakout rooms. I was surprised by how easily she adopted to technology - it helps that she watches Youtube, Storybots, and was already reading books on Raz-kids.
However, later on in the day, I would often find her spinning herself in the swivel chair or randomly find her dashing upstairs to my “home office” to ask me a question (which in her mind was critical to be asked immediately). There was really no way for her teacher to enforce any type of control or provide rewards and incentives to paying attention.
My oldest daughter, aged 9, had a somewhat different experience - partially it was her studious personality, but most likely age played a huge role as well. After a few weeks she would relate stories about her day and what she did with her friends (like winning at Kahoot!) and while she missed her friends there was a tinge of joy and enthusiasm in her voice that was reminiscent of pre-lockdown days.
Education needs to change
Many years ago Sugata Mitra shared with us the power of children self organizing to learn with the help of digital computers - this was in 1999 long before social media made us question our time spent on the internet. 20 years later and the education model has not shifted. Most schools are still working on a push method but digital technologies teach us a pull method. Google Search is essentially a pull method to the world’s knowledge. What Google lacks is judgement.
Modern education should just be Google with better judgement.
Naturally, this is an oversimplification coming from a technologist with scant experience in education. However, I am a student myself and ask myself why I should spend $1000+ on a course to teach me something like algorithms? 40 years ago a professor who had painfully accumulated knowledge around meaningful and practical algorithms would curate a course that balanced ease of learning with relevance to allow you to dip your toes and aquire a taste. However, in 2020, I no longer need a professor to help me dip my toes. This in turn means that professors could use their time more effectively - focus on simplifying the complexity of some particular proofs? Devote more time to research? Engage with students who have a deep interest in the topic?
My 4 year old doesn’t yet know how to dip her toes. She needs more attention and dedication. There is a synchronicity in this that can provide an opportunity.
As children grow older they should be expected to be more independent. A grade 12 English class can essentially half the amount of in class time with the other half done independently - there are plenty of Youtube videos and summaries on Hamlet, MacBeth and any other piece of literature. The English teacher could spent more time explaining why we are reading these ancient authors and help us connect the dots, instead of struggling to make it interesting, which Youtube artists have already perfected.
A gradual increase in independence sets them up for the real world, which is currently a learn new skills or sink world. Most skills are so current that by the time they show up on a curriculum they are almost irrelevant (try to find a engineer with 10 years experience in building serverless applications, or building large React applications, or managing Kubernetes - what are the chances we will still use React or Kubernetes 10 years from now?). Companies such as Google have already shifted to hire without university degrees. This provides another opportunity - we can go back to university vocationally later in life. Saving us that student debt and allowing us to learn after we have consciously decided that we want to learn this topic from an expert who has dedicated their life to it.
University could be about mastery not job skills - if kids would leave high school with a high dose of independent learning.
Shifting dollars down
This means we could shift public education dollars down to address more preschool education, smaller early class sizes, and even provide more support for things that can’t be digitized (like cross country running). As children grow older a single teacher could handle a larger class size - essentially just coordinating learning activities and no longer teaching.
What won’t work is to cut public education funding and tell the teachers to figure it our sink. That’s a recipe for leaving everyone behind.