Saturday, 11 April 2015

EDUCATION:: What is learnt? What is taught?

Who is in charge?
2015 marks a period of protest/riot/occupation in many universities across the world. The students and staff are calling for more democracy in the operation of higher education.
I want to consider the nature of education, and the misconceptions that inform our thinking about education.

For many people,  education, teaching, schooling, learning,  are synonymous. This is not true.
It is true that  Systems of Education operate across the globe in all countries.
Children of 3 to 5 years old  can be found in pre-school nurseries, singing rhymes, listening to music, dancing, speaking:  getting ready for entry into the primary school. Secondary schools teach pupils subjects and skills from reading to numeracy; literacy; and science; maths; sports; religion,  history; geography; and so on. They are prepared for further and higher education.
These systems are provided and funded by governments; or foundation Trusts;  or  by religious sects including  catholics; muslims; hindus; sikhs; Orthodox Christians; protestants such as Anglicans; Methodists; Puritan; and so on.. The organisations that support and sponsor  educational  provision are determined to control what is taught; to train the teachers; and offer specific approved curricula.
The parents of the children and the students or the  scholars may choose the school or college, or university  but they rarely choose the curricula, what is to be taught. Nor are they qualified to do so. At this point we have to analyse the concept of ‘education’.
What is taught? will vary from system to system, and be moderated by the providers. Governments will design a ‘national curriculum’. Different religious schools  will insist on the place of religious studies in the overall curricula. Of course, there will be disputes and discourse about the nature of religious truths, as well as empirical truths.

We will have to confront a key issue:
what is taught is not necessarily what is learnt? Even in the same classroom, what is learnt by some, is not the same as all. But many parents as well as the sponsors of education, such as government agents and inspectors, or teams of priests, all  want there to be a direct correlation between what is taught and what is learnt. They also want to be able to test and measure and grade the quality of the learning and teaching.and the standards of schools and colleges.
It is important to realise that in any system of education across the globe, the providers  assume that what is taught,  is what is learnt. They do not want to pay for a system in which the pupils learn nothing. These systems of education are more concerned with  teaching  the pupils a prescribed body of knowledge.. The interests and preferences of the pupils are not  considered relevant.The pupils and students must do as they are told. They are to be ‘schooled’ and knowledge transmitted, by rote, and tested.
The providers do  not think it is  helpful for educational researchers nor teachers  to reveal that pupils and students must be actively  involved, and  interested in what is taught, so as to be able to learn new knowledge. Researchers propose that what is learnt is linked to  the involvement  of the learners in what is taught.  
For example, Illich and Friere, as well as Bruner and Dewey warn that organisations may talk about educational and economic liberation but they mean State control, and prescription of what is to be learned, and any  freedom to learn comes through conformity to national standards. Part of their radical critique of state education is that it places education in an institution where it can be controlled and rationed. It seems that ‘neo-liberal education’ is not new. The demands to control/ration/ prescribe/transmit/for obedience/schooling/ pupils and students have always been there
Another key issue: If  ‘learning’ is not necessarily connected to ‘’schooling’, and learners are active, involved in discovery of  their home environments, by research; and work in teams so as  to learn, to study, to collaborate, to cooperate, to solve problems,  then it is possible to think that education can take place in the home, the field, the street corner, the village hall so that knowledge can be used to understand their  living environment, and their social context.

The Friereian model of education is rooted in the notion of educational liberation,  in opposition to  schooling and transmission of prescribed knowledge. In a Freireian classroom, students act as subjects in the creation of a democratic society. They learn to critically examine the social construction of society.  Ivan Illich  asserted that education takes place in living spaces,  whereby we are all pursuing a life of action, so as to practise a  lifestyle of creative intercourse between all persons and their environments. He wanted to de-school society, and did not identify 'learning' with 'schooling'. In fact he saw the reverse.By being forced to go to school, the pupil is thereby schooled; the pupil confuses teaching with learning; grade advancement with education; a diploma with competence; and fluency with the ability to say something new.
According to Bruner,learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge. The learner selects and transforms information; constructs hypotheses; and makes decisions. Bruner  presented the significant elements of education:
Education as learning;
Education as Dialogue;
Education as problem solving;
Education as negotiated curriculum;
Education as Liberation;
Education as Virtual Learning;
Education as Green Living.

It is clear that while the funders of  education  focus their attention on what is taught in the curricula,  the researchers and teachers are much more interested in the processes of  learning.
What is taught may not be what is learnt.
What is learnt  depends upon the development of  more open interactive, cooperative, collaborative learning processes  between the teachers and the learners as identified by Bruner and others.

[go to A Discourse: Social Eology/ Education]

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