The Schooling Dilemma

News / November 5, 2007

The dilemma facing many parents concerns the level of help they should give their children. In the UK the state education system has received record levels of investment over the past 20 years with billions of pounds being spend on a variety of teaching doctrines. Concentrating on the core subject of English, maths and science, strident efforts introduced to change the course of achievement have been disappointing.

Despite developments in technology and an acute awareness of the demands of a growing global economy little has been achieved to improve the standards beyond levels achieved 50 years ago. Whilst we have landed men on the moon, seen a supersonic airliner come and go, experienced the onslaught of mobile phones and pc computers, we have failed to provide a large proportion of children with an effective education. It’s not for the want of trying; teachers have endured a barrage of corrective initiatives tested over successive generations of school children which has proven to be of doubtful worth.

The lot of teachers burdened with adopting such measures, continually scrutinised on performance and dealing with changes in society’s attitudes presents a dour image. An emerging level of disruption seen in the classroom, influenced by changing values in society, impacts both on the class achievement and the resilience of the teacher. Reduced resolve shows in the number of trainee teachers leaving the profession within three years of qualifying, and at a senior level the growing gap in deputy heads refusing promotion to Headteacher.

The UK is not alone in this situation. Comments from English speaking countries globally voice similar concerns. A root concern is that average class sizes of 30 are not conducive to effective learning. The dominant performance of independent schools, with an average class size of 17 indicates achievement significantly influenced by the teacher pupil ratio. So what of the future? Having invested billions of pounds over 20 years there must be a better way, yet if it takes a generation to test an initiative, could we fail another generation whilst we wait?

Recently the UK Prime Minister stated the single most important factor in success or failure of children in education are parents. This pivotal theme ran through a major policy review by the UK government department responsible for education. If parents are the key what is their motivation?

Conventional homework is the current means of generating some form of lesson practice at home. But the nature of the text and exercise format is predominately seen as a chore by all parties and tends to exclude effective parental support.

Children spend 15% of their waking hours in school, leaving 85% as a target opportunity. If parents are the key then the home environment needs to be more effectively mobilised. It is essential that a child is also allowed to enjoy their childhood, and any parent adopting the role of learning mentor should ensure they induce an essential element of fun. Children learn more when their imagination as well as their attention is captured, something the 1:1 ratio at home can achieve equally as in class. Ironically the mechanics to activate parents in this role already exists. Modern educational resources developed over the past 10 years are predominately educational games covering the whole curriculum. But the time to play the games in class during the core teaching time can be extremely limited. Therein lies both the problem and opportunity.

Learning has been categorised by the National Training Laboratories into “See, Hear and Do” categories. Studies show the “See and Hear” function in class achieves 45% of learning retention, increasing to 75% through the “Do” process. The use of the educational games at home allows the parent to support their child in the “Do” activity – critically at the pace of the child and in a far more productive manner than conventional homework. The synergy to be gained between the school and parental support can achieve a quantum leap in results. Ideally advice from teachers to mange to learning journey by steering the home activities can improve the educational chances of countless children with minimum investment. Teacher’s teaching and Parent’s practice could become a maxim for the future.

Alistair Owens

From the article written for the USA forum

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