Friday, 12 October 2007

UK demand for education an opportunity for India

A recent BBC news item showed 'A' level students getting online tuition from tutors in India.

This is another step along the path of separating content away from actual teaching. Course content creation and planning is already a huge overhead in the UK, and the stress placed on teachers is still having a significant impact on teacher recruitment and retention.

It is lack of access to fully geared up and committed teachers which is driving UK students and parents abroad. The UK system is too rigid to allow talented individuals into the system on a mentoring basis, and the overheads are driving out those who originally had a calling for the profession.

It will be a brave government that takes the leap into fully outsourced course content and local teacher supervision. Perhaps, however, the UK descent down educational league tables may yet provide the stimulus government needs for a root and branch review and a radical new approach.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Berkeley University lectures now on YouTube

Berkeley University, USA, has posted hundreds of hours of lectures on the internet, which means this previously inaccessible and highly valued content is now available globally, for free.

The ability of the internet to host content is, of course, now well established, so what does this mean for education from here on ?

The emphasis in learning has to change. Educational content now has to be a given, already provided, available when you want, where you want, how you want. As time passes, the body of content will build, mature and condense into a core of high value material.

What remains is how students are helped through educational content they find difficult to understand, and how their capabilities are assessed.

The best teachers, the ones we always remember from our youth, are those who always had the knack, talent & charisma to convey content. With the emphasis away from content re-invention, this should free up teachers from content preparation and allow them to do what they do best, the teaching.

Using a reputation based model is now becoming more prevalent for such things as mass publication, or spamming as we have known it up until now. Why should not education also benefit from the reputation of the teacher or mentor ? Under a reputation based model, it is in the teacher's best interests to grade students accurately, so that their students can then be compared like for like against students of other teachers.

Is this the way forward for education ? More efficient, and reputation based ? How quickly can politicians understand the potential and harness the new landscape to build and deliver effective education systems ?

Clearly, Berkeley will be in the vanguard of such developments.

Monday, 8 October 2007

The future of Further & Scarcity Education

Where might Further Education be headed, with so much information and connectivity now available online ?

Improved Accessibility
One current problem education has is accessibility. It usually has to be delivered face to face, by a dedicated teacher, who is trained and maintained at great expense. For children in full time education this is a sensible use of resource, always provided teachers are of sufficient standard.

But we know this is not always the case. It may be the case that, where teaching standards are insufficient or where schools become uneconomic, children in failing or closing schools and adults who have fallen out of the education system may do better online. The teaching profession already recognises that it's "whatever it takes", that there are many ways to reach the end goal, and that it's "about the teacher, stupid". Herein lies great knowledge and value.

Online tuition must now be considered as a viable additional option for both Further Education and what we might call "Scarcity Education". How much better that a tutor spends time dealing with genuine issues, and letting students move forward at their own pace.

Online tuition also offers students the opportunity to select unique course elements, to build a qualification that has individual elements tutored perhaps by recognised experts in their field.

How would such variety and diversity be "controlled" ?

More Flexible Assessment & Accreditation
For tomorrow's students, studying online at their own pace, and referring occasionally to a tutor, how do they first select the course ? How is the course accredited ? Who will recognise the course as being "valuable" to them ?

Here we need another step forward. At present, there is no means of recognising a student's tutor as delivering students of a measurable standard. If each tutor has a reputation to preserve, as measured by recipients of their "student product" and by students themselves, they will have a much more public profile to maintain, and a vested interest in producing better, more measurable "product" than their "competitors".

It is precisely because schools and FE colleges act as a "closed shop" that poor standards are not exposed for what they are. The school Head needs to employ staff who are committed to their student's learning, not just doing a 9-5 job. How better to do this than to show results from individual teachers, "graded" by their students and eventual employers ? For those who are truly committed, and these creatures still thankfully exist, this would be one heck of a motivator. Their efforts could actually get real recognition, and hence a better chance of attracting comparable rewards. This factor is just as true in a business environment, learning more business oriented skills, and the current lack of this focus results in poor and ineffective recruitment processes into large businesses.

So what's the answer ?

Reputation Communities
One answer is for the government to fund communities that support and encourage educationalist & training reputations. This would act as a central forum for teachers and trainers where they could come and show off their abilities and specialities, and their preferred operational hours. Although current 'A' Level results tell us anonymously how well a teacher is doing, it is from an Exam Board perspective, not from the students themselves, and not from employers.

Clearly, there is still a need here for face to face contact in a local setting. As such there is a need for security clearance for a smaller section of this "on-line" population. The government would be central in providing that security for more vulnerable sections of the population still needing face to face advice and guidance.

How can reputations be established ? By associating with someone with an established reputation looking to grow their "local network".

Opportunity Now
The future can develop this way right now. What is needed is a leader of the pack, someone with vision and contacts who can trial and promote such developments, and convince those with funds that this is the way to go, and that it fills a significant gap in current education provision.

Friday, 24 August 2007

UK must tackle causes of educational breakdown

The recent murder of an 11 year old British school child by an as yet unknown 13-15 year old, has prompted the usual knee jerk response from government, which seemingly inevitably tackles the symptoms of the issue and not the causes.

The government's response is to tackle the problem after it has occurred, by excluding children from school, or by punishing the parents.

If the government instead chose to listen to it's own teachers and the British public, they would hear that they should really be tackling this problem at root, and not so many years late down the line.

Teachers are saying that teaching and performance measurement burdens are such that they cannot establish a "rapport" with children that enable them to establish when home circumstances are likely to lead to disruptive, anti-social and eventually criminal behaviour. The public also know what the government is in total denial about, that teacher authority has progressively been undermined in the classroom such that children now have more law "on their side" than do the teachers.

By under-spending or mis-spending the education budget this way, more stress is being placed on the budget of the Justice Department of the Home Office.

It is very well known that the best thing a teacher can do for children is teach them, not be bogged down by non-productive administration. Many European countries provide support assistants for teachers to enable them to concentrate on teaching, and the incidence of child crime seems much lower in the body of European states.

Also, clearly, there needs to be much better assessment of children and their attitudes to society in school. Perhaps there is a role here for social workers and even the police.

Finally, to restore authority to teachers, there should be video surveillance in problem classes such that teachers can prove their actions where needed, with the support of the law to counsel, support or even prosecute children who display anti-social behaviour.

Whatever action is taken in response to horrific crimes like these, it is lamentably overdue that the UK government starts tackling causes, and not just provide instant responses to appease the media and provide a "talking point".

Thursday, 23 August 2007

UK Education and Business must improve dialogue

A BBC recent UK interview between a businessman and a scholar showed yet again that business and academia too often live in two completely different worlds. The language used between the ivory and granite towers is still such that each side resorts to rhetoric and insists they must be right.

Even recently on holiday, I heard the view espoused that graduates tend to make good employees, but not often employers.

What businesses look for is an instinctive understanding of what customers want in a product or service, and an understanding of how changing consumer attitudes require parallel change within the product or service providing organisation. What education provides are people with advanced thinking skills.

While advanced thinking skills are good to enable orientation inside large organisations, courses do not always have sufficient components which directly require contact with retail or business consumers, or the understanding of change needed to keep up with and influence positively ongoing corporate development.

What businesses need are students studying something more like an MBA, whose components do reach out to consumers, and Project Management skills, so that they arrive equipped with an understanding of how change works in both small scale and large scale environments.

So one real way in which business can stop moaning about lack of directly applicable skills and educationalists can stop moaning about poor uptake and deployment of graduate skills is for business to get directly involved with students pre-graduation. Businesses can lobby for more consumer and change focussed courses, and also for government to provide funding towards independent providers, of whom there are a great many potential suppliers.

One concern that needs to be addressed with independent suppliers is that of qualifications. Whilst governments often obsess about a need to measure success, this is usually prohibitive for start up and small organisations. Government measurement of success needs to be graduated, to allow entry level organisations that chance to start up and provide an alternative to often cumbersome state mechanisms.

And business entrepreneurs have one big factor in their favour here. Given the option to have a piece of paper or a quantifiable skill, service or product, they will often prefer the latter, since paper qualifications still can't predict business success. So there is a ready market for suppliers offering such skills provided government can facilitate accreditation.

Another route employers might like to pay attention to in terms of accreditation are the business networks springing up. Here, independent reputation is often developed and supported by networks of business people who know who provides effective services of a particular nature.

Whatever solutions and paths are chosen, neither side can benefit by sitting in their ivory and granite towers slinging brickbats at each other. Someone in the UK with enough vision to think outside the boxes handed down by government, and yet with enough contacts to influence policy making or service provision, needs to act to bridge the gap. It seems no coincidence that the US is 2 years ahead of the UK in terms of developing and implementing new product and service concepts.