Education is constantly evolving. Billed as one of the fastest growing tech markets in the UK, our schools collectively spend more than £900 million a year on education technology, or edtech as it’s commonly dubbed. Neither does the sector show any sign of slowing down.
Curriculums change through the years, and with them the means of presenting their educational content to school pupils. We’ve already seen chalkboards exchanged for interactive whiteboards and projectors, and textbooks largely swapped out for laptops and computers. We’re all familiar with these developments, but ground-breaking progress continues to be made.
On October 16th, 2018, the BBC published a report on a parliamentary meeting that served as a landmark event for technology in education. Based at Middlesex University, a robot named Pepper sat down with MP’s to discuss the impact that robotics and artificial intelligence have had on education, and how things could move forward in the future. While all the questions and answers were predetermined, the main thrust of the conversation with Pepper was to encourage a blend of technology and human oversight, rather than replacing one with the other.
This merger focuses on viewing technology as something that is of service to teachers and pupils rather than something to be subservient to. An LSE study has already proven that banning smartphones in schools significantly improved results, but the question worth asking is; can technology be repurposed for education’s sake?
Though robotics and AI are being introduced to the learning environment, for now they largely handle the more administrative tasks in the schooling arena. For example, they’ll record test results or manage student data. That said, the robot Pepper facilitated duties in front line learning too, such as aiding special needs children with their numeracy development. Clearly, this edtech is all of enormous help to teachers, who have been notoriously overworked for years, resigning and even falling ill from the stress of their exploited roles.
An App called Kahoot! has also made waves amongst school pupils both in the UK and the US. It allows teachers to create their own digital games that their pupils can access through the app, enhancing their learning through a fun use of technology. The app had a recorded 50 million monthly users in June 2017, which shows just how quickly edtech can gain traction in popularity. Under teacher supervision, apps enable the learning experience to become exciting and interactive in a way that textbooks, unfortunately, can’t be.
To some degree, edtech allows children to have a more prominent hand in their education. It gives them greater agency in terms of not only what they learn, but how they learn it. Technology is something that young people are very familiar with, and that same familiarity can spur their engagement in the classroom. Edtech use means that learning becomes a less passive experience; pupils can now get involved using their screens, instead of listening to teachers monologue in ways they can’t fully comprehend.
Research conducted in 2014 questioned if school pupils absorb information better when they’re taught under specific learning styles and techniques. In 2019, perhaps surprisingly, this topic of which method is best remains a hotbed for contention and controversy.
It’s well known that pupils can excel in certain subjects and may struggle to master others, and of course there’s no shame in finding anything difficult. It has rightly remained the principle of education in good schools to nurture a child’s desire to learn, rather than to relentlessly push them into acquiring top-end grades to the detriment of their wellbeing. Learning is an organic and diverse process and it suffers when enforced under superficial measures.
This said, an array of questions come into play here; can pupils decipher the information they need from blocks of text, or are more practical study methods their forte? Will they improve from class group work, or can they thrive using an online course at home? Do they need images to tackle a subject, or a teacher issuing instructions at every step?
Each learning method in the VAK model aims to ensure that every child has an access point into learning, breaking down the barriers that prevent them from fully understanding any given topic. A child who prefers visual means can, theoretically, stick to the books and videos while avoiding any physical or listening-based activity. But does it make sense to make the act of learning so linear?
Complications arise when it comes to taking each method and making them applicable to every subject. Can a visual learner use images to really understand playing sport in physical education? Can an auditory learner excel in a silent reading period of an English class? Will their future workplace cater to that singular method alone? When a pupil is confined to a singular way of learning, it may have the potential to create a paradoxical classroom culture and restrict the kinds of information they can absorb in the future too.
Moreover, a research paper in 2004 recorded as many as 71 different learning styles, but the scholars themselves cited that their endeavours were “extensive, opaque, contradictory and controversial” after accumulating their data. Again, this state of argument appears to have changed little to date. While some children did indeed find their studies to be worthwhile under a personally tailored regimen, others criticised the lack of diversity. Do we ignore the things we’re not good at, or do we work to hone our skills?
Children need to know that learning is undoubtedly for them. When it comes to getting started or exam revision, something like VAK is undoubtedly a plus. It’s okay to have favoured ways of doing things, but then again, school is about being flexible and engaging with a never-ending canvas of ideas. There should be a constant circulation of learning styles for children to acquaint themselves with – not only so they can play to their strengths, but also to improve on methods of learning that they’re not so well versed in as well.
I am a complete book worm. I love reading, delving into new worlds, learning new things and improving my vocabulary. In my opinion, you should too! Here are some reasons why…
In my first years of studying I took an English course to improve my language skills. It was a nice surprise then, when I found out two of the books we had to read were already on my own ‘to read’ list! I thought this was wonderful because not only was I able to study and understand the language of these books, but got to enjoy the course in many more ways. It didn’t feel like work, which is always the dream!
So, what are the benefits of reading, and can I convince more of you to do it?
I have a rule that every night I do my best to read a few chapters before going to bed. Since doing so I have had much longer and deeper sleep and find I am more productive throughout the day. Reading helps you forget your worries as you focus on the story. After a few chapters, things will seem much less stressful than they did before. The article linked below adds more to the case.
I have just finished reading Deborah Harkness’ vampire trilogy and could not believe how many facts and so much history one author packed into such them! It’s amazing what you can discover when you pick up a book and start reading. You could even find an interest in something you’d never heard of before.
One of the best things about reading is it can improve your memory no matter what your age. It has also been linked to longevity, helping to prevent Alzheimer’s and just keeping your memory sharper than it would be without. So why wouldn’t you want to read? The link below has more about this.
Sometimes you can feel like you’ve hit a brick wall with a particular essay. This may mean you need a break, but rather than watching some TV, I find that picking up a book unrelated to your course can give your mind a better chance to relax and think more clearly. It’s a great way to press pause and will often help us to go back and break that wall.
Ever been sat on the sofa or propped up in bed with a good book, glanced over at the clock and realised a few hours have passed since you sat down? Well that is a sure sign your focus is working and a great indication that you’re relaxing too. When reading you are focusing on all the words, the story, turning pages and thinking ahead, which is a lot of multitasking, meaning your focus is automatically improved!
The next time you’re undecided whether to pick something off the shelf to read, then, I recommend you don’t hesitate!
Imagine if everything you had ever been told was wrong. We are told ‘facts’ and stories all our lives – but how can we know what we are being told is right?
When my daughter first started trying to convince me to home educate her, I countered her arguments ‘for’ with arguments ‘against’ that I had learned from other people: “You need to go to school to socialise with children your age;” “You are better off getting help from a teacher face-to-face;” “You need your peers at school to help you problem-solve”.
The problem was that each response I gave always came with a niggling doubt, mainly because I knew that my years spent studying at home with the Open University were far better and more rewarding than the years I spent studying for my degree with a bricks and mortar ‘traditional’ university. Added to that were my twelve years as a school governor (six as Chair) at a large primary school, where I felt the pushing for targets, associated paperwork and policies, all overshadowed the well-being of the children. I was also concerned that creativity and physical education were being pushed out by government targets and always had that same niggling doubt in my mind that ‘maybe this isn’t the best way’.
Further thought brought me to the realisation that for each ‘against’ I thought of, my brain seemed to automatically register a solution. I knew that socialisation wouldn’t be a problem; I have friends who home-educate and meet up regularly with other home-educating families. There are also numerous opportunities for voluntary work and I knew that if my daughter found some voluntary work in an area that interested her, she would be far more likely to meet like-minded friends with shared interests. The local riding stables are top of the list at the moment. Is she self-disciplined enough? Having watched her concentrate on her work, planning her days, and having her ask me relevant questions, I know the answer is yes. So long as the subject interests her, she will have no trouble completing the work. And that’s the beauty of home schooling – the children can choose the subjects that interest them.
My daughter has had an interest in video editing and IT for a long time – years – and I feel that they are something that she could make a successful career out of. Home-schooling, combined with some ‘unschooling’ (while she works on her video editing and IT) seemed like the ideal combination to give her a strong start in her working adult life.
And so our journey into home schooling has begun. It’s early days yet but the support so far from Oxford Home Learning has been impressive and I can honestly say that, as yet, I haven’t had any regrets in taking this path.
When my son chose his GCSEs neither of us mentioned his dyslexia; there was no need. The moment we began talking about academic subjects and exams, he knew we had entered a realm in which he is automatically disadvantaged. It’s a realm that makes him visibly nervous and noticeably reduces his confidence. And he’s only too aware that it’s a realm his siblings have thrived in, easily outstripping him at every turn.
My dyslexic son has always had an uncomfortable relationship with reading and he dreads writing. Spelling is a total mystery to him. He is easily distracted from his studies as printed words and numbers inevitably fail to hold his attention if anything else, from a snoring cat to a buzzing fly, is in the vicinity. We both know his memory is terrible.
Over the years I’ve encountered “experts” who’ve implied dyslexia is a beast best subjugated through hard work and willpower. Armed with the hefty, clumsy weapons of extra work, support and tests, every dyslexic should, according to them, fight the good fight until they emerge victorious. If at first the dyslexic doesn’t succeed they must try, try, try again… until they’re the same as everyone else!
These experts do not understand dyslexia. If my son attended school then I have little doubt we would be pressured to obey this well-intentioned, results-driven but ultimately unrealistic model. Because the majority of children, teachers and examiners do not have dyslexia, non-dyslexics have precedence in our nation’s education system. Sadly, this leaves dyslexics misunderstood and struggling to keep up with their peers. The expert approach swallows up their free time with supplementary work and usually only serves to dent their self-esteem.
Home-schooling has, without a doubt, increased and improved my son’s options. He has more freedom to choose GCSE subjects he feels confident about passing, he can defer exams until he’s ready to sit them, isn’t obliged to study ten unrelated subjects per-week, and isn’t being compared to two dozen non-dyslexic classmates in every lesson. Whilst his results are important to us, we as his family view him holistically, not through the narrow lens of academic performance. His GCSE studies take up part of each day but do not dominate his time as a six hour school day followed by homework would; six subjects are studied rather than ten. This has given him more time to pursue his hobbies and interests, which are the things he loves doing and excels in – the things his dyslexia doesn’t affect.
All this can lead to the questions, am I raising a snowflake; is he a lad so protected from the realities of life that he’ll melt at the first sign of hard work?
My answer is no. I’m helping my dyslexic son to pick his battles wisely. Amongst the GCSEs he’s chosen are Maths and English Language. He will have to work harder than most to pass these difficult, core subjects even though he is studying less overall than he would do in school – the six subjects instead of ten. Because his progress will be much slower and more laborious than other children’s this is a more realistic and fairer goal.
Dyslexia is not a monster that can be fought and defeated. It cannot be slain by gritty determination and hard work alone. However, I believe it is possible to accommodate the limitations faced by dyslexic children. For my son, this has been helped by our decision to home-educate.
Is the current education system eliminating imagination and artistic potential from our future society?
In recent years the British government has been accused of trying to marginalise the Arts subjects, in favour of Core subjects such as Science, Languages and Maths. The value placed on Art, Music and Drama appears to have decreased, with even the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) having dropped all Arts subjects, bar English, from its list of requirements.
Commenting on his post The Seven Deadly Sins that Prevent Creative Thinking, Psychology Today blogger Michael Michalko said, “Unfortunately, I’ve come to believe that education is a great inhibitor of our natural creativity… To me it seems that in the real world those who know more, create less; and those who know less create more.”
Michalko echoes the opinion that Sir Ken Robinson made in his 2006 TED talk, when he spoke passionately on why we need to create an educational system that nurtures, rather than undermines, creativity ( https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity ).
It could be said that in a modern world, full of technology and instant request filling opportunities, children don’t need to be as imaginative or creative as they have been in the past. In truth, many would argue that the opposite is the case. While the demands of the technology that runs our world means an understanding of science and maths is more vital than ever, the stresses that accompany such ambitions mean that the ability to escape into our imaginations has become just as important.
Creativity, be it through drama, song, playing of a musical instrument, drawing a picture or telling a story, provides a much needed dimension to our personalities, culture, and well-being; In its most extreme case scenario, the sidelining of the Arts would ultimately mean less books to read, less films to see, less songs to sing, and less artwork to enjoy.
In a recent article in the Times Educational Supplement, ‘Too many schools have forgotten that fun is crucially important’, Colin Harris asks if primary schools have become so concerned with meeting the standards of Ofsted and ensuring all government guidelines are met, that there is little time left for children to have fun or learn through creativity.
Mr Harris warns that, “Many of the problems that manifest themselves later at late junior and early secondary phases are due to the insufficient opportunities we have given our children to develop their emotional intelligence through play and creative opportunities when younger… Play and creativity need to permeate all levels of our system. Surely if learning is memorable and inventive then our children will certainly think and behave differently.”
Most teachers would rightly deny that they work hard merely to instil a feeling of dull mediocrity among their pupils. Yet with English teachers having little choice but to teach us what we are supposed to think about the books we read rather than allowing us the freedom to make up our own minds, and decreasing educational budgets meaning that even if a school wanted to stage a play or buy instruments to form an orchestra they can’t afford to, it is easy to see why the lack of creativity argument continues to rage. After all, any school that was seen to put the desire to buy dancing shoes ahead of purchasing new science equipment would lose its reputation fast.
It is fair to say that, on an individual level, the majority of teachers do their best to introduce as much creativity as they can to their daily lessons; but they are up against a system that is, at this current time, discouraging rather than encouraging that angle of education.
A good teacher is someone you’ll remember forever. But what is it that makes a teacher special? What is it about some teachers that make them people you’ll tell your own children about in thirty years’ time? The best teachers tend to have some of the following very particular qualities in common.
No matter how many pupils they have in their class, they manage to make you feel as if you are important. They want to listen to you. Your opinion and ideas clearly matter to them, whether it is academic or personal. They ask you how you are when they see you.
They get to know you
A teacher who takes the time to get to know about their pupils hobbies, out-of-class interests, and personal strengths and weaknesses within and outside the classroom, will always be a better teacher than one who simply turns up to teach.
They have passion for their work
A teacher that oozes enthusiasm and is excited by their subject is going to pass that enthusiasm onto their classes.
They are intelligent
Being passionate about a subject is only worthwhile if a teacher knows their subject well. The more intelligent and well versed a teacher is, then the better they’ll teach.
They make you laugh
Everyone remembers a teacher who made them smile. They don’t have to tell a joke a minute; just someone that makes their lessons happy places to be.
They are fair
They listen to every side of an argument, be it one designed to be discussed in the class, or an argument that has erupted between pupils. Democracy in the classroom will help pupils cope with future confrontation fairly and democratically. Discussing problems as a group in a calm and fair way will help students be more independent and capable of decision makers later on in life.
They are thoughtful
Favourite teachers are always thoughtful in the way they teach. For example, rather than simply printing out a worksheet for you to do, they take time to make everything visible. They draw pictures, use charts, and explain things carefully. By bringing the subject to life they make it memorable. A history teacher may dress as a Roman soldier to help you learn the parts of the legionary’s uniform; a maths teacher might turn a difficult problem into a quiz.
They challenge you
Teachers who challenge your abilities and limits without making you feel inferior or stupid, are often favourites with pupils. Teachers that want to challenge you kindly want you to succeed.
They are good listeners
Teachers who don’t interrupt their pupils from speaking, and who encourage the shy to take a turn in class discussions without pressuring them, will always be admired and valued by their class.
The memorable moment
A teacher that naturally creates one special moment, one single random thing that makes you remember them forever, is the most special of all. That special something will only ever be personal to you. For example, a teacher who takes the time to read and comment on a story you’ve written in your own time. Or a special moment on a school trip, a conversation about your future that helped you see your way, a kind smile when you needed one the most. That moment can be anything, and when it happens, you’ll never forget it.
This week the government hailed as a victory the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Term Time Holiday Ban.
The judges ruled that “regular” attendance had to be in keeping with the rules of the school. At present, that means that state-funded schools can only offer time away under exceptional circumstances. Anything else risks slipping an Ofsted ranking.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are pleased the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with our position – that no child should be taken out of school without good reason. As before, headteachers have the ability to decide when exceptional circumstances allow for a child to be absent, but today’s ruling removes the uncertainty for schools and the local authorities that were created by the previous judgement,”
“The evidence shows every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.”
So, is the government right? Is the banning of time away from school in term-time the best thing for our children in schools?
There are so many opinions and arguments surrounding this subject, and apparently no clear right or wrong, even after this ruling. I am no different. As a parent, there are certainly any number of questions that I ask myself when considering the issue. But when I do so and I look at my own situation, just to take one example, things only ever become very unclear.
The government have been promoting the benefits of family life for years. They have encouraged parents to eat and play together with their children, for example, actions which will both help increase confidence and interaction with others. But these promotions and edicts, whilst worthwhile, also bring with them similarly valid and concerning questions. What happens if a parent’s employer dictates their annual leave? Is family time no longer important?
For a large number of parents across the country, holiday time is the only time when memories are made. Most parents work in full-time employment, passing each other from childcare to work, work to childcare. Holidays for these families are not a luxury, they are an essential part of family life. I have decided to send my children to school and not be home-schooled, but that does not and should not mean that I am any less able to educate my children. Surely taking a child to Lanzarote to investigate volcanoes would benefit them more than sitting in a classroom looking over a book? Is it no longer my right as a parent to make the right decisions for my child? Do I not know them better than anyone else?
Quite often, children can also become lost in schools, which are often large institutions, and this raises for me again the question of how a parent can agree with this judgement.
The Guardian’s “10 Reasons to Home School your Child” promotes some of the greater flexibility provided through this method of education. Child-led learning, the benefits of one-to-one, the ability to write your own timetable, to form a great social network, all these things are only beneficial. Not to mention avoiding the school run (my favourite feature). And if you decide you want to return your child into the mainstream system at any point later down the line, you can.
So now I am left wondering to myself: Why, actually, have I sent my child to school?
Beginning in 2011, the National Citizenship Scheme is a weeklong challenge for 15 to 17 years-old, which provide a chance to take part to embark on exhilarating adventures, while building on social, work, and life skills. UCAS strongly backs the scheme, and recommends students include NCS in their personal statement.
Split into three main phrases, the 7 day course begins with a four day, three-night residential based activity period. The pursuits available are weather dependent, but involve such activities as canoeing, rock climbing and abseiling. Living in teams of 12 -15 people at an outdoor activity centre, those taking part get to know new people and enjoy their independence away from home.
Phase two of the week sees a further three days in a university-style environment where students get the chance to develop life skills like confidence, leadership and communication.
The final phase of the NCS is to deliver a community project over a period of 30 additional weeks. Working in teams, the participants put the skills they have learnt over the week into practice by delivering a community project of their choice.
Later, they’ll have the chance to attend a graduation party to celebrate completing the course, with family and friends.
So, why should you consider enrolling for a National Citizenship Scheme place?
– NCS gives you exclusive access to work placements, volunteering and events.
– UCAS recommends students include NCS in their personal statement
– You learn the skills employers value
– Learn to budget and live for yourself
– Meet incredible people
– Improves leadership, teamwork and communication skills.
So far, more than 275,000 young people have signed up for the National Citizenship Scheme. If you’d like more information, you can find it here-http://www.ncsyes.co.uk/
So, what is my favourite book? Well, to be honest, I can’t choose, there are so many to choose from, and all well stored in my memory. Not, however, because we had a large number of books at home when I was a child! No, I got my stories from somewhere else.
Coming from a background where there was only just enough money for the essentials of life, there were very few books at home, but, encouraged by my lovely mum, our local library was my lifeline. It was my favourite place in all the world, a comfort blanket and an Aladdin’s cave all rolled into one. The librarians were the people I envied most in all the world – What bliss to be surrounded by books all day!
My local library was originally financed by a wonderful Victorian philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. Andrew was a poor boy who became a self-made millionaire, and he felt it was his duty to help others improve their lives. I learned later that in 1889 he wrote an article calling on the rich to use their wealth to improve society, and it stimulated a wave of philanthropy which I think many of us have reason to be thankful for today.
I was able to retreat to my local library and find other worlds and new possibilities, not just through reading fiction and discovering the wonders of poetry but by finding encyclopedias that told me about a world far away from my inner city home. Without that library I would have suffered, not just educationally but psychologically; it gave me ideas and dreams that I otherwise might never have had.
When I read now of libraries closing due to spending cuts, I am desperately worried about those other bright inner city children, just like me, who will now not have a chance to explore other worlds and dream other dreams. With World Book Day on 3rd March almost upon us, it would be nice to think that those in power might spare a thought as to how this trend could be reversed. Or is that just another dream? I sincerely hope not.