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Education: a new paradigm? Education: a new paradigm?
by Joseph Gatt
2020-12-05 11:41:41
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Having spent a lot of time teaching, here are some observations I made, before I introduce a new paradigm and submit it for discussion.

-The problem with small class sizes. From a teacher's perspective, small class sizes (10-15 students) work great. Students tend to focus, tend to assimilate the lesson.

edc001_400But from a student's perspective, small class sizes can be difficult, or even hell. When you have classes of 10-15 students, as an individual student, it can be very difficult to find another student or a group of students whose personality matches yours.

Furthermore, even if you do find a friend or two with matching personalities, in cases of conflicts of personality, it can be very difficult to ignore the old friends and find new friends.

So for teachers, small class sizes work great in the short run. In the long run, students just stop talking to each other and stop saying anything in class, and you get that kind of cold atmosphere.

-The problem with big class sizes (30 plus students). The great thing for students is that they are very likely to find 3, 4, 5 students they have affinities with and can be friends with. If students have a conflict with another student, it's easier for them to hide behind someone, or make a new friend and ignore the old one.

But, from a teacher's perspective, you don't get anything done when there are thirty plus students in the classroom. I've been a teacher and worked in those conditions, from my personal experience, when you have 30 people in the classroom, as a teacher you are just “killing time” and hoping the hour goes by as quickly as possible.

-Ethnic, racial, religious and other minorities in the classroom. I know many schools where they have a handful of students from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Estonia or name a country, and they group those students in the same classroom.

From my personal experience, it's a lot easier being the only Jew in the classroom than being paired up with a group of other Jewish students. It's always easier being the only Arab student than being paired up with other Arabs. Why? Because when you're alone you get to define your identity in whatever way you wish. When you group up Arabs in the same class, they are no longer able to be who they are, and they pressure each other into behaving in certain ways. It's not the same thing being a Jew in Israel than being a Jew in some American or Canadian small town.

-”The nine month curriculum.” Right now, the status quo around the world is the following: you start school in September (or March) and you are assigned a teacher for math (Mr. Jones) and you get to keep Mr. Jones for 9 months, where Mr. Jones has to follow the curriculum and test you and so on. For English you get Mrs. Smith and for history Mrs. Williams.

The problem with the nine month curriculum is that if the student misses the first two months, or the middle two months, or one month here and one month there, he or she is doomed to get Ds and Es and Fs.

Add the noise and the conflicts among students and you get many failing students.

-The way I conceive of education. Rather than have Mr. Jones teach you 9 months of “math” without clearly defining what “math” is.

I would rather have Mr. Jones teach a two week course in “beginner algebra” or a three week course in “basic calculus” or a 17 day course in “basic chemistry” or a 20 day course in “classical and modern theater.”

Why? If you have public and private schools offer a series of two or three week courses taught by different teachers, intensive courses where they make sure the students master the topic at the end of the course.

And then the students move on to a more advanced course, or repeat the course if they daydreamed too much in class.

That way student get to be in small-size classrooms, but also get to shuffle around groups, which limits to social hazards of being stuck with bullies. Also limits some students deliberately getting bad grades so they don't offend the bullies.

Short-course also teach students to finish what they started. Because with the current 9-month curriculum, I don't think teachers ever finish the textbook. A lot of times, at the 9 month mark they are half-way past the textbook, and students develop a habit later in life of doing only half the required work.

How does this work out? A number of classes is offered for every two-week term (with exams at the end). And students get to choose which course they want to start with, which course they want to study next. Perhaps they want to start with a two-week course in basic algebra and level 1 French, then they want to move on and do the next two week session by studying 20th century history and basics of government, before they spend two weeks studying basic physics and agronomic biology.

Of course each school will decide what the required courses are, and what the electives are. And what the pass and fail and repeat requirements are.

I hear the teachers yelling “how do I prepare for all those classes? I'd have to work full time at home preparing for all those classes.” As a math teacher, I would say they would give you a textbook, and tell you that for basic calculus you have to teach from any given page to any other given page. Or, as a teacher, you get to choose which pages you want to teach.

I know from an administrative standpoint the curriculum I am designing can be a little complicated to implement. You would have to constantly collect student registration slips for this and that class, constantly check that the students are in class and that they are being tested, collect test scores every couple of weeks and so on and so forth.

But, if you can find good software to help you out with all this (for class registration and for test scores and absences and the like) things should go by a little more smoothly.

Important note: I would say this should get tested as a pilot program at one school or the other, to see how the students, teachers, and administration are handling the whole thing.

Perhaps use the pilot program for 5 years, see what the difficulties are, and if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, I'd say the curriculum gets adopted in any country interested in implementing it.

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