Levelling the education playing field

Teaching and learning have changed so much since I left a formal learning set-up in 1993. The way knowledge is delivered and the methods in which students learn continue to evolve over the years. Nowadays, learning can take place any time. 

School or learning institutions are no longer the only places we can acquire knowledge. In fact, experts like educational researcher Sugata Mitra has openly questioned the role of such institutions by asking, “are schools obsolete?” 

Today, it does not matter anymore at what age you and me can pick up a new skill or knowledge. There is no age limit as to acquiring knowledge, and it comes for free, too. 

To me, the Internet is one of the best gifts to mankind - it has levelled the playing field for many. For example, education which used to cost so much is now more accessible to those who can’t afford of going to school or higher learning institutions. 

Take the Khan Academy for example which was started by Salman Khan. The online academy gives free video tutorials on subjects like Maths, Science, Economics and Finance, Arts and Humanities as well Computing (which includes programming). 

The website also provides exercises for users to practise their understanding of topics they have learned. On top of that, it also helps to prepare students for some tests as well as allow parents, teachers or coaches to track their children or students’ progress. 

Khan Academy encourages self-directed learning and shows the way to make it possible. I think it is empowering for kids to be able to take charge of their own learning, and best of all, to be able to do it at their own pace. There is no rush. 

As Salman Khan puts it, “the academy encourages mastery of the more fundamental ideas. It encourages students to build understanding and take time as opposed to rushing it through, to build strong foundation. We want the children to be able to later on apply what they’ve learned.”  

I completely agree with him on this point. In fact, this is what I find can be improved in most school systems.

In schools, students are given a fixed curriculum to follow. Unless they have pro-active teachers, they are not usually encouraged to take full responsibility of their own learning. Memory retention takes precedence in school, instead of mastery.

In public school where classes are commonly big, it is almost impossible for teachers to make sure that every child in class grasp a particular concept or topic, often leaving a “swiss cheese gaps” in students’ learning process. 

Though I think technology is a great tool,  the importance of having the right mindset towards learning is just as important, if not more. As a parent, I find that I have to undo a lot of fixed beliefs that I had about learning when it involves my children. 

Not only are my two kids have completely different learning styles, they have different interests and strengths. Even when it comes to something they both like, music for example, they approach them rather differently. 

It takes a very supportive music teacher to teach the two of them together. And thanks to Skype, my kids now can learn from a teacher who lives thousands of miles away from us. So once a week, my children (sometimes my son still in his pyjamas) will set up their webcam,  laptops, put on their bluetooth earphone, sit in front of the piano and learn their music lessons via Skype. 

It has now become one of the lessons they look forward to every week. And they do it with someone who is not in the same room with them! 

My kids and I use Khan Academy a lot. As their parent, I get their progress report on a weekly basis via email. I could also at anytime check on their progress by logging into my account. I think with Khan Academy, Google, Skype  and YouTube, learning has become more accessible. All we need is an Internet connection and a computer and a lot of encouragement from parents and teachers! 

A friend recently directed my attention to a very inspiring video by Mitra. 

Mitra through his School in the Cloud - a learning lab in India which use resources and mentoring from the cloud - shows that learning can happen among children through self-organised learning environment. 

He believes that children can learn from each other and that a teacher’s role is to just raise a question, stands back and admire the answers. He also wish that we design the future of learning. 

I hope more people would have visions like Salman Khan and Mitra to make education the way it is should be, free and without boundary.

I also think children or the learners should take the lead with as little intervention as possible from an adult or educator. I would like to echo Mitra that perhaps it is time to design the future of education.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. 


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Mitra , Salman Khan , Internet


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