Alternatives for education

This is a low level revision of an automatic translation of the original page into Catalan. I apologize for any errors it may contain. 

Training and good education are a fundamental ingredient for social progress, but we don’t  seem to be getting enough people with the desired training level. For example, according to the European Commission, Spanish statistics have worsened since 2000 and now Spain is located at the tail of the countries of the European Union, with 31.2% of young people who do not finish high school, while at the whole EU level, the percentage is 14.4% [1]Meanwhile, students of 4th ESO in Catalonia suspend in mathematics and writing. According to test results,  15.9% of students have a low level of knowledge and 18.2% a medium-low in Catalan, rates similar to those obtained in Spanish: 14.1% (low) and 17.1% (medium-low) [2]The problem is not only a Spanish one: a recent study concluded that school failure was a cause in the UK last summer’s unrest [3]But all this is already old news, the Committee for Excellence in Education in the United States warned that the nation was at risk because of poor educational level of students already in 1983 [4].

What is the problem with education? Why is it so difficult to get the educational system to work? Rivers of ink have not achieved any consensus not found the required solutions. I won’t claim to have the solution either, but there are some ideas that I would like to discuss.

The single model of how education should work

I remember a history textbook, from about 10 or 12 years ago and probably at 2nd or 3rd year of secondary school level (though I don’t remember the details and therefore I can not cite it) which explained, I would say with some pride by the author, that in the medieval universities an education model was used that included a presentation by teachers, the taking of notes by students, and work at home to complete the study and to pass the exams. I do not know if this description describes (forgive the redundancy) accurately the educational system of the medieval universities, but it perfectly describes the education system that is used in every school I know. How can that be? None of us uses a vehicle similar to those from the Middle Ages, or would accept to be treated by doctors using the same systems of the Middle Ages, nor believe that the political systems of the Middle Ages are  valid today... why do we continue to use the same basic model of the educational system?

When I ask this question to colleagues or acquaintances, I meet a standard answer: can you do otherwise?

Yes, there is a classic model that I think needs to be vindicated: programmed learning or instruction, originally proposed by B.F. Skinner [5]Remember though that the model was proposed in the 1950's, and so we must analyze it with the perspective afforded by the passage of time. Moreover, I would like here  to defend programmed as I imagine it could be conceived and implemented nowadays, not as based on teaching machines made ​​possible by the technology of 60 years ago.

Well, programmed learning original model  is based on several principles:
  1. Principle of Small Steps
  2. Principle of Active Response
  3. Principle of Immediate Confirmation
  4. Principle of self –Pacing
  5. Principle of Self Evaluation

I do not have space enough to describe in detail these principles, so I only hope that the reader finds them seductive enough to look for further information. What I will do is to give is my version of programmed learning as a system in which:

  1. Students know at each moment what to do
  2. What students must do is tailored to their knowledge and capabilities
  3. Students are presented with information units they can handle
  4. Students are asked to provide an unequivocal answer to determine if they have learned what we wanted them to learn
  5. Students are informed about whether the answer is correct or not
  6. If the answer is not correct, more information is given, and students are told about what they have not understood and what they have done wrong, and are given the opportunity to respond until the desired level of correction i attained
  7. Students work at their own pace
  8. When the students end the unit of learning, the game is over, and they are not asked nor expected to do more homework, read, present papers, etc.

A classic criticism of programmed learning is that it is mechanical, that there is content that can not be taught with this system, that it does not allows students to develop their autonomy and creativity, etc. Some of these criticisms may have some basis, but I am not arguing that all education should be based on programmed learning, just that it should be considered as a resource among others, perhaps even as the "default" methodology which should be by stepped only when there is a positive reason for it

To finish, if the reader is a student, perhaps in college or vocational training, or has children studying, or recalls how he studied, please try to think on how many of the principles enumerated apply to the way in which he studied, is studying, or his sons are studying, and then sincerely, from the heart, tell whether he would not prefer to be placed in a system of programmed learning.

In upcoming entries, I will discuss chores and curriculum content.

[1]  Eliseo Oliveras. Bruselas alerta por el altísimo fracaso escolar español . El Periódico, 31de gener de 2011 

Maribel Núñez. España, entre los campeones del abandono escolar temprano . ABC, 1 de febrer de 2011.
[4]  The National Commission on Excellence in Education. 1983. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform .
[5]  Skinner, B. F. The science of learning and the art of teaching. Harvard educ. Rev., 1954, 29, 86-97.
Skinner, B. F. The Technology of Teaching, 1968. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts

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