Education: Caveat magister

Martin Levins
29 September, 2012
View more articles fromthe author

OK, so I did Latin at school – I admit it, but what did it actually do for me? Apart from being able to write ‘Teacher beware’ in a cute headline and having a tight resonance with John Cleese’s channelling of a Latin lesson in The Life of Brian, not much.

But in this, my last Education column for Macworld Australia, I want to question the purpose of education in general.

I feel privileged to have written this column for over 12 years for a couple of reasons: it’s always nice to meet up with someone who has read the column and share some discussion and I always find that writing to fit 600 words, for an authentic audience, greatly enhances my understanding of what I think.

So what has 12 years of reflection on education and the place of technology within it, produced?

My aversion to a balkanised, non- integrated and crowded curriculum has become stronger and the commitment to a constructionist pedagogy, which takes advantage of a supportive technological environment that encourages creativity, has firmed.

Reflection has raised other questions, such as, ‘How many teachers continually learn?’ and ‘How many teachers practise what they teach?’ How many of those who teach writing, for instance, actually write?

Let’s go further: How many maths teachers do maths? How many science teachers practise their own discipline? How many teachers set tasks that have an audience of only one – themselves?

Art, music and drama are different aren’t they? They usually have authentic audiences and their teachers are generally practising.

Sir Ken Robinson tells us via TEDtalks and conference keynotes that we should give more emphasis to creative pursuits and recognise that we should search for the one thing in which a given individual excels.

He emphasises the importance of creativity and derives his thesis from personal experience and views a single test score (such as NAPLAN) as anathema.

While Sir Ken’s evidence is largely allegorical, there is more quantitative data from Yong Zhao, Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education in the College of Education, University of Oregon and Weinman Professor of Technology and Professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy and Leadership (he must have a very big business card).

Zhao keynoted the recent ISTE conference in San Diego, where he discussed the results of two global student ability assessment tests: PISA and TIMSS.

Essentially, his research points to the meaningless nature of these test scores: ‘Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Japan are among the best PISA performers but their scores on the measure of perceived capabilities or confidence in their ability to start a new business are the lowest’.

These test scores are not measuring what we actually want. If we don’t enjoy learning and have little confidence in applying the fruits of our labour, then what’s the point?

The former head of Google China, Dr Li Kai-fu, adds: ‘Although the Chinese education system is formidably efficient … it has always negated critical thinking in favour of memorisation and scoring in tests.’

Reading or listening to any of these guys gives you a head-smacking ‘D’oh’ moment and is evocative of all the reasons why we have used Macs in education.

Macs have brought you moviemaking, podcasting, easy ebooks and web publishing, providing more than one way to explore and express, and pioneering wireless access so that its use can truly be at the point of learning.

While creativity per se may not be able to be taught, its development needs to be encouraged by such an approach to IT deployment and adoption in schools.

After writing over 100,000 words here, I can only say: Magister, docere bene. Teach well.

Leave a Comment

Please keep your comments friendly on the topic.

Contact us