Doubling Down on a bad-hand
The agenda of school reform always revolves around topics like improving the quantity and quality of teachers, raising standards, revising syllabi, improving assessment, and the use of technological aids to "deliver content" — which is rather like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic (except that most passengers are unaware that the ship was floundering from the day it left port, even before striking the twin icebergs of Industry 4.0 and #covid19), because it fails to recognise its fundamental failing:
Conventional education (both public and private) sees Education as something done to children.
That is why
- It supposes that for students to learn, they must be taught by an adult expert (i.e. qualified teacher). That’s why the focus during the lockdown has been on “how to teach remotely?” rather than “how to help children learn remotely?”. Even with conventional classrooms, teaching subjects didn’t necessarily result in much learning (which is why there were many failures even by the hopelessly low benchmark of rote-memorization exams) and children learn many things that are not explicitly taught in school (to quote both a positive and negative example, no school sets out to teach how to use a smartphone nor bullying, but clearly many children are learning both.)
- It has a focus on Standardization, which cannot accommodate the natural curiosity of children to explore their environment and learn — each child having unique interests that varies over time is a variance to be eliminated. So not only is education trapped within a predefined syllabus (which will always be years out-of-date because of the time taken to revise them in a centralized way and then train teachers on it), some of the hidden curriculum of school has evolved explicitly to stamp out this curiosity as early as possible (“preferably” in pre-school). This is antithetical to the societal and economic requirement to have life-long learners (more about that here) 😤
- It insists on Grading the output - Grading is for commodities, not for people! Of course, they will talk of rubrics instead of grades and assessments instead of examinations, but practically, the need to compare the output (which requires objectivity in assessment) and efficiency (scalable assessments that are easy to administer and easy to grade) will prevent meaningful reform. And because they will learn to play the "exam game" (e.g this personal anecdote by Sifaan) all we will know is that they "can do well in exams". The problem isn’t that our children are failing exams — it is that the exam-centric education system is failing (to meet the needs of) our children.
The system (and society) is so invested in the "success indicators", like measures of enrolments, completion and exam pass rates (accepted even by those who failed by those indicators), supported by narratives of "good" teachers, "good" schools, and revised syllabi, that it can't be fixed by reform.