I’ve recently noticed two ways that higher education spoils my life. The first is more annoying, the second is probably more serious. They are: the tech and the system.
The tech at universities is designed for grown ups. I teach small children. It’s simple really. I have no problem with universities having fantastic technology that supports their students’ learning*. But why does it have to be foisted upon me and my children. I’m sure Moodle does a grand job in its place. And all those other ones – Blackboard, Fronter and the like. But they’re so hard to manage – they require a full time position to keep parents engaged, encourage teachers to create meaningful online learning and to reset student passwords. I don’t know many primary schools who can afford that full time job. Then there’s all the training – how do I teach my teachers how to use it properly, given all the other training needs.
I have to say that I didn’t even bother with Moodle. I had seen how it looked and thought how firstly my staff as users and then my children would suffer a poor experience. Not all teachers can be picked up from a poor leaning experience – they look at the failing tech and it confirms all they ever thought about computers. This is mainly down to the design – not only does it look wrong, but it’s designed for a different kind of productivity – primary school teachers are productive when they are having lots of 1:1 interactions with children in their class during the day, whereas students and lecturers at university interact with the knowledge, which can be held by the VLE. And of course VLEs (like Moodle) have come from universities originally, sidled into secondary schools where they are just about manageable and on, in their predictable way, into Primary schools where we know no better. Until now.
The alternative is Google and other web2.0 tools. Yes I am a Google Certified Teacher, so I am biased, but when I did collaborative data analysis with my staff a few days ago, they got it instantly – with no prior training. They collaborated on the same, secure Google spreadsheet at the same time, initially made mistakes but learnt from each other and from myself, getting the job done. The same had happened with Calendars a few days earlier. I couldn’t imagine being able to do the same things so efficiently and smoothly with the clunky systems that Moodle have to offer, or indeed Excel.
Other alternatives also exist. Textease is a brilliant suite of tools that work a bit like Microsoft Office, but start from where the children are. Similarly 2Simple produce some great software for very young children
The System is based on university success. Nations crave it. Lord Mandelson said it (when he was in power). Sir Ken Robinson declared it in 2006. And so on… The problem I have is not that some of the children will go to university and some won’t. It’s the stuff that comes the other way. And the thing is – it starts with the children who won’t go to university.
Opt in or opt out. It is not a choice for the primary child. You have to go to school. Parents can now be prosecuted if you don’t. By contrast, you don’t have to go to university. It’s a choice – a choice that takes considerable financial risk if you’re at or below the median** salary. Much of the primary school teacher’s effort can be taken up by ensuring motivation. This is not an issue at university – a student goes there by choice. And that student can fail the course if they don’t put the required effort in.*** So of course the concept of failure creeps back to secondary schools, where you can fail at ‘A’ levels and GCSEs, even though it goes all the way down to ‘G’ now. Apparently 6% of students don’t get a ‘G’ grade in maths and over 40% don’t achieve ‘C’ – the grade at which a GCSE becomes useful. This then finds its way into primary schools where you can fail by not reaching a ‘Level 3’ in the level 3-5 SATs, or where, if the school labours the point you can fail by not achieving the level 4, or not making 12 points progress. Some 11 year olds can’t opt out of this. They have no choice. They have to fail.
Failure hurts. It’s good to get use to that pain. But is 11 the right age? And is it even 11? Recently my own son started in a Year 3 class (aged 7) and was given a test in his first week. Of course he had been tested prior to that – there are assessments in Year 2, but I remember him coming home and talking about the ‘special booklet’ he had done that day – the teachers were keen to exert any stress with the concept of being able to fail at a test. Not so in Year 3. A test was sat. In reading skills I believe. We await the results with bated breath.
Is seven the right age to learn about failing in tests?
*although I suspect much of it is about guarding the knowledge so they can charge more money from it, rather than actually encouraging their students to learn.
**Never trust a set of data unless you know the range, median, mean and mode
***Unless they’re studying English. Or history.