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Rethinking the Educational System using Edtech

Nobody becomes a teacher for their love of chalk.

We all know how teaching is a noble profession. Teachers are in charge of educating the leaders of tomorrow. Yet, for the amount of work they do, they are underpaid, undervalued and of course, overworked. So it becomes really hard to inspire tomorrow’s leaders when they themselves feel uninspired and bogged down by the academic system.

Let’s start this post by talking about the outdated “factory” model of education that Ken Robinson made famous in his TED talk. The old “factory” model was built to standardize education so that graduating students could later be interchangeable when they joined the larger production machine of mass goods. That was why it was based on two things;

– Feeding students knowledge

– Expecting them to regurgitate it onto some standardized test

Yet we live in an era where technology has encroached into every aspect of our lives. Because of that, industries are focusing more on personalization and customization. From youtube’s “Recommended” playlist to design your own footwear (iSlideUSA), you’re encouraged to stand out and let your personality shine through.

Except in one place…

School.

Sometimes I feel it’s the biggest irony in life to spend one’s lifetime in an academic system that forces us to conform, only to be released to a real world that expects us to stand out.

So the old “factory” model still persists. Students still go to school to be tested for their memorization and comprehension skills rather than their critical thinking and creativity. To understand why that is a problem, the figure below shows Bloom’s Taxonomy. At the basic level, “remembering” is the simple retrieval or recalling of facts. This is usually done in exams by asking students for facts using terms such as, the who, where, what, how, list…etc. At the higher level, “creating” is coming up with something completely novel, by combining and connecting existing ideas.

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To truly stand out, you need to “think different,” and just like any other skill, creativity and problem-solving skills can be learned through experience. This is the essence of what Seth Godin wrote in his famous education piece titled, “Stop Stealing Dreams,” where he wrote that the two pillars of a future-proof education are

  1. Teaching kids how to lead
  2. Helping them learn how to solve interesting problems.

One more thing I would like to add is, “Teach kids how to ask questions and come up with problems to solve.”

Because it’s very easy for us to accept the world as it is and think that we are limited by what is currently out there. Yet the greatest breakthroughs in the history of humanity were done by people who were just like you and me, but decided they would imagine a better world.

What makes me sad is that kids are naturally curious and yet that curiosity is somehow crushed by the system. Students who ask so many questions might be shamed by adults who find shaming a better alternative than admitting they didn’t know the answer.

Here are some of the ideas presented by Seth Godin to rethink the educational system;

– Homework during the day, lectures at night.

This is the flipped classroom model which is more learner-centric than teacher-centric. Knowledge dissemination happens outside the classroom where the student engages with the content using technology (such as online videos and tutorials), and the role of the teacher is mainly to set up the online system, and mentor the students if they get stuck understanding a certain topic. The main benefit of this is that it encourages both autodidactic behavior as well as collaborations among students.

– Open book, open note, all the time.

From my experience in university, I’ve learnt that professors are usually reluctant to put together open-book exams. They know they’re not testing the rate at which you can flip pages so open-book questions are expected to be more complex and dependent on understanding more than memorizing.

– Focused instruction instead of mass, generalized instruction.

This is where technology solutions revolving around personalization using artificial intelligence present the biggest opportunity. Focused instruction enables students to follow their curiosity, and gain access to content that revolves around solving real-life problems and building projects they’re actually interested in, which might help say goodbye to the concept of ‘bored students’.

On a small scale, M-Shule is a Kenyan startup that’s building the first adaptive mobile learning management system. Content is personalized based on a student’s interaction with the platform. I like to refer to it as “Eneza with Aritficial Intelligence” (I’ve spoken about Eneza in a previous post).

– Transformation of the role of a teacher.
As mentioned in that post, it is always apparent how Kenyan teachers are reluctant to embrace technology because they’re afraid it would replace them. In my opinion, fighting this change is not the way to go though, because whether they decide to embrace it or not, things will change, and they’ll end up just being left behind.  To help avoid that, the startup Elewa entered the scene with the idea of developing the ICT-skills of teachers in public schools.

– Access to any course, anywhere in the world.
Internationally, Coursera and edX are two Edtech companies that offer online courses as well as degrees in various subjects. However, these international solutions are not entirely feasible for the African market due to the unbalanced distribution of internet and connectivity across countries such as Kenya.

This brings us to one local solution known as BRCK Education. BRCK Education’s Kio Kit provides a kit contained in a suitcase that includes 40 tablets, a BRCK connected to a portable server, and a wireless charging station. The tablets connect to BRCK, whose server stores textbooks, Wikipedia for Schools, games and other digital education resources.

The amount of awareness the team had while coming up with the product to help the local market is pretty obvious from the fact that these kits are sheltered in suitcases that are dust-proof, water-resistant and able to withstand drops of up to 70 cm. Many schools are housed in mud-walled classrooms with makuti (palm leaf of coconut tree) that leak when it rains heavily.

I guess one of the things to remember when we’re having any discussion on education, it’s that things can’t be done the way they’ve always been done because the world has indeed changed.

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Published inEducation
  • Kate Findley

    Tech tools are great. Versoapp and Newsela are two of my favorites.