Brave new world or……

I’m fascinated by Sky’s article today about developments in education.

When I read the title I thought, ”Oh, no. Not more fanciful pap about tomorrow’s machine-dominated world.” So I read it, just to confirm my prejudices and was disappointed – in spades!

Let me bore you first with the essential structure of my own learning. At college, it was largely DIY, interrupted by foot-sitting in the presence of recognised brains and afficionados in my subjects. I was supposed to gather the pearls cast before me and if I could manage that (in every sense of the word) I could get my degree. The ‘teaching’ as such was minimal. The individual was expected to recognise his/her (sorry I can’t use ‘their’) strengths and weaknesses and adjust as necessary. Those who had identified their intellectual niches early doors (!) went on to harvest their just desserts. The rest did their best or usually less than their best because there was no feed-back except examinations at two levels: college checks every term and ‘public’ exams at half-time and the final whistle.

So please read the article. I would have revelled in such an opoortunity to be taught so professionally.

Author: janus

I'm back......and front - in sunny Sussex-by-the-sea

22 thoughts on “Brave new world or……”

  1. Hi Janus, while not exactly AI, there is a lot of this already happening via such media as Khan Academy and Doulingo. I am somewhat surprised it has not advanced further than it has given, as I see them, the monumental benefits of such methods. Have a look at this video.

    Why people, in this part of the world anyway, pay high school fees to have their children educated by teachers who are for the most part bored and unqualified, is beyond me. If I were a parent of a young child, I would certainly take advantage of the opportunity.

    I must say that I am quite looking forward to giving up work altogether so that I can go on line and learn subjects and languages that I have never studied.

  2. To a large extent this is already the case. There are more and more “hybrid classes”. Instructors teach part of the course, computer-aided learning sorts out the rest. There are also more and more online courses. It’s relatively simple to complete programmes of study entirely online. I’ve done that for several.

    There is something to be said for traditional learning. However, for those far from urban centres this is a godsend. Languages can be taught — and studied — entirely online. One student I am working with this term is 15. He wanted to learn German but they didn’t offer that at his high school. He proved that he is responsible enough and was permitted to take this — and other courses — online. When he finishes high school, he’ll be able to complete university in two years should he choose to continue. I am able to retain some degree of fluency in Japanese by taking several classes online each week. It’s more cost-effective and convenient than anything the Huns could muster.

  3. To some extent the Headmaster of Wellington College is behind the times. The teaching robot is already here. When I was working I bought (online by download) some interactive learning software for aircraft type conversion; believe me these type conversions are no fun, mainly because the airlines try to do things in half the time that they should really take. Anyhow the software was superb. You could manipulate switches and controlled and see the effects. No doubt that this is already available in a host of subjects and as Mr Khan says in his video you can repeat things time and again without embarrassment.

    Bring it on.

  4. Yes, Jazz, but I think the latest robots interpret the learners progress and needs even more efficiently. As you say, bring it on. Just a pity that school discipline will still be left to clueless powermongers!

    Or will it??

  5. The discipline issue aside this could change things radically. Perhaps we no longer need schools in their present form ?

  6. jazz, there is little doubt that home-schooling will be very common and the teaching profession will see radical changes – no longer subject-based but focussing on people skills. Not before time, eh?

  7. I think this is definitely the way to go.

    I detest the modern antagonism towards streaming. I tried to teach classes of ‘mixed ability’ – IQs ranging from 80-130. I knew I would fail at least half of those children. Some I would lose because there was no way they could keep up, and others I would lose because they weren’t being stretched… I ended up in Special Ed, with very small classes and children with a limited IQ range. I could produce individual work programs for all of them – an impossible task with classes of 30+.

    Like you, Janus, my degree was definitely a DIY. For reasons, I won’t go into here, I ended up with having to complete in 20 months… fortunately, the lecturers allowed me to set my own agenda and do it “my way’. I, too, would have been delighted to have been taught so professionally.

    I have a few observations regarding discipline problems – and they are based on observation – rather than theory. It is my experience that the most disruptive children are the brightest kids who have, somehow, been left behind.

    A system of education that allows children to work at their own pace without the embarrassment of being publicly seen as failing can only be good. Especially if they have the incentive of being able to leave the education system once they have achieved a specified level – whatever age they are at that time. Scrap the ‘Leaving Age’.

    We really do need to rethink the whole idea of education. Certainly we require a literate and numerate population – the Victorians did not introduce universal education because they wanted people to be able to read the newspapers… they wanted people who could be employed in the new technologies.

    But do we really need a Universal University Educated Population? No we don’t. We desperately need people who ‘Can Do’ and whose skills are recognised as being equal to those whose skills are ‘to think’.

    You’re right Jazz – we do not need schools in the present form – but watch the weeping and wailing when it is suggested that ‘teachers’ are replaced by computer programs…

  8. Well, I read the article, Janus, and thought “Hmm!” The photo of neatly uniformed girls intently regarding their computer screens did not take into account the undisciplined yobs at the back of the classroom who find it hard to concentrate on anything and may well spend their time trying to find porn or violent video games on the screen.

    I’m sorry your time at university was so unexciting. You should have chosen Modern Languages, since I appreciate that there is no call for conversation classes in Latin or Ancient Greek. Reading two languages gave me a full timetable of language classes, literature seminars, conversation groups and listening exercises in a language laboratory. This last makes me wonder how learning German on-line prepares one for immersion in the countries where the language is spoken. Or are there special exercises for coping with Schwyzer-deutsch and such? What do you think, Christopher?

  9. Boadicea: Very true. In Spain there were issues with one boy. He was both bullied and a provocateur. He was precocious in the extreme and, unlike the others, had spent years at an English-medium school in Egypt where his mother worked for the Spanish embassy. His was at near-native level, unlike the others, and was more intelligent than many of my colleagues. I had to separate him and give him special lessons to prevent constant riots.

    Sheona: That is always an issue. For example, people learn Brazilian Portuguese and then go to Portugal only to realise that it isn’t quite the same thing. Likewise, people might learn peninsular Spanish prior to going on a Mexican or Peruvian holiday only to realise that it’s practically a different language. Let’s leave well enough alone and not go into the remnants of my schoolboy French and Québec! Many comprehensive language learning programmes these days try to expose students to the variations of a language. For example, basic words and phrases that are distinctly Swiss, Austrian or Bavarian and having speakers from various parts of Germany giving examples of speech. Even if it’s still standard German, the differences in accents and pronunciations are made clear. At my Japanese school there are teachers from various parts of Japan. They often give brief, online lectures about differences in dialects and regional cultures in Japan. I’ve been teased, good-naturedly of course, by some Japanese men because the way I speak the language is very formal and standard with little grit or native idiosyncrasy.

  10. Sheona, my university years were far from unexciting, but they were occasionally frustrating for the lack of input from ‘teachers’ – which now robots can replace! Akshully I’m not that good at spoken languages – except maybe English (!).

  11. When I first arrived in Portugal (fifteen years ago now) I spoke not one word of Portuguese and immediately set about rectifying the problem by going to a teacher with instructions to teach me ‘proper’, grammatically correct Portuguese – the equivalent of Oxford English, if you like – which is how I was taught Latin, Greek, French and German back in the day and most of which I have since forgotten purely through lack of use. (Let us leave the story of Melanesian Pidgin for another time.)

    It was hopeless. The teacher, bless her, was excellent and I learned all the irregular verbs, comparison of adjectives and how to use the subjunctive, which is disturbingly common in both written and spoken Portuguese. No matter. I would leave the lesson glowing with ‘education’ and return to the village where nobody had a clue what I was trying to say, nor indeed could I understand them either. This piece of Algarve is like deepest Dorset or parts of Lancashire half a century ago. They speak not so much with an accent as in a rich dialect which you will not hear on the morning television news broadcasts. I ditched the lessons and took to the bar where I can now chat to Pedro or Jorge and find out the price of carobs, how his potatoes are doing and what Maria Jesus was up to with Mario last week. These things matter here.

    It is my ambition to go to Lisbon or Porto one day, walk into an hotel needing a room for the night and the receptionist asks, “Oh, you’re from Algarve?”, purely because of my accent. At that point I will truly have arrived and I will do a lap on honour around the lobby with outstretched arms and my t-shirt over my head.


  12. OZ, I’m comforted by your story. Everyday language ain’t about formal stuff. I’m proficient at Danish subtitles (as I was with Greek in Cyprus!) but spoken vernacular demands a skill I can’t learn.

  13. Likewise Oz, my Latin, French and German (alas! I was not permitted to take Greek – which was probably just as well!) was taught by learning all the right rules, and being able to spout the declensions and conjugations of regular verbs and nouns, and many of both that did not fit into the ‘normal category’ – but nary a sentence of any of those languages could I actually speak!

    My daughter, taught German, a quarter of a century later was lousy at the grammar, but could carry on a fluent conversation within a relatively short space of time. I have the feeling that languages are best learnt by ‘doing’ rather than ‘analysing’ – I wait to be corrected by Sheona!

  14. That reminds me, Janus. A fellow pupil of mine in VI Classical, an extremely bright chap who went on to a scholarship and a First at Oxford and a glittering career in the Civil Service, was holidaying in Greece back in early nineteen-seventy-something and turfed up in Piraeus needing to catch a ferry to Paros. He asked a uniformed naval type on the quay, in his best (classical) Greek, where and when he could catch said ferry. The uniformed type, between giggles, revealed in very good English that what my friend had actually said was, “Tell me, O slave master, at what hour doth the galley set forth towards the island of Paros?”

    A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, eh?


  15. Janus: I read not too long ago that Danish is exceedingly difficult even for Danes to pronounce. A study was done to compare how long it took a group of children from different backgrounds to pronounce words correctly. Danish took by far the longest — even for Danish children. There are apparently over 40 vowel sounds,many exceedingly obscure. It doesn’t help that Danes struggle to understand non-native speakers preferring to switch to English. That is, unless they want to have a laugh at someone’s expense. I’ve found saying “rödklöver med grädde” is a good way to dampen their spirits.

  16. G’day Boadicea. I still maintain that one needs the formal understanding of the grammatical structure of at least one language, preferably your own mother tongue, in order to learn another. I learned German in my late thirties at Volkshochschule (See, it wasn’t all wasted!) in Liverpool and was able to pick up that very formal and structured language quite easily because of my old-fashioned and very thorough grounding in English and the Classics.

    Other younger students who had not benefited from such a background were able only to learn a phrase parrot fashion without any understanding of the makeup, thus they were unable to change “I went to the shops” to “I am going to the shops” because they knew nothing of the declensions and tenses. They had to learn and remember each phrase independently, which must make learning any language a nightmare if you have to memorise the sounds to describe any possible and remote thought or situation you may encounter, ever.


  17. OZ, I’m reminded of my amusement when I saw that in Greece a busstop is ‘stasis’ – a (military) outpost in the Olde Worlde.

  18. Hee hee! And that the classical Greek for a rank (of soldiers) was taxis. Who could forget a taxis rank?


  19. Today I caught the tail-end of a Rick Stein cooking show made in the Eastern Med area. He pontificated that he studied ichthyology – which is of course, he proudly imparted, LATIN for the study of fish! A little learning, etc……

  20. Boadicea, I suppose it depends why you have chosen to learn a language. If it is for the purpose of studying the literature written in that language, then you probably need the grammatical structure. If you just want to be able to speak and understand enough for the requirements of everyday life, then the “doing” could suffice. Like OZ I think you need both. After two years of university, we linguists were obliged to spend a year abroad, split between two countries if necessary. So we ended up with a sound knowledge of the grammar and development of the language as well as a pretty wide vocabulary of current student slang. At times the French could be very sniffy if you did not speak correct French and would pointedly refuse to understand. The Germans used to have a habit of tidying up one’s sentence and putting the verb in the correct place before handing the sentence back.

  21. Janus, I like the Italians best. They don’t seem to care if I don’t use the subjubctive when I oughter, but smile and tell me, untruthfully, how well I speak Italian. That’s always encouraging.

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