Saturday, March 16, 2013

Are Schools Obsolete?

In a recent TED talk (below), Sugata Mitra contends that schools are not broken, they are obsolete: "I said schools as we know them now, they're obsolete. I'm not saying they're broken. It's quite fashionable to say that the education system's broken. It's not broken. It's wonderfully constructed. It's just that we don't need it anymore. It's outdated." He then goes on to describe his famous 'hole in the wall" experiments and his vision for schools in the cloud or Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE), that is, schools in which children explore and learn with and from each other. While this is an intriguing idea - and might have some merit, kids should learn from and with one another, the thing that struck me in his description of the current school system - with which we are familiar, was his contention that they (schools) are not broken, they work in the way they were designed, but rather they are obsolete or out-dated. The statement fits with so much of my thinking over the past several years as I struggle to prepare new teachers to enter the field. Are schools obsolete? Do we need them? While I do not think that we can simply drop schools, I do think we need to change them to reflect our times, but how? One way is to make use of the available tools for collaboration, communication, creating and thinking, to make learning relevant and authentic. A good critique of Mitra's idea (& research) is by Donald Clark, and is worth reading. The idea that our schools were built for another time needs exploring, how can we make them relevant to today's world? I don't think Mitra has the answer, but he does provoke thought.