Self-Oriented Learning

Our public education system doesn’t adequately prepare our children for today’s world because it is designed for a 200-year-old problem that no longer exists. We won’t easily fix this system through our newsletter, but we’ll share some cool ideas about how we can enrich our children’s lives.

In his 2013 TED Prize speech, educational researcher, Dr. Sugata Mitra, explained how the current model for education came from the Victorian British Empire when they needed people to smoothly run a worldwide bureaucracy without computers, the Internet, or even telephones. People working in the bureaucracy needed to have identical skills – write extremely neatly, read, and do addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division – to be cogs in a global machine.

These aren’t the skills our children need to master to be successful today, yet public education generally focuses on them. Our system of education is outdated and isn’t keeping pace with how quickly the world is changing. People still need to be able to read and understand basic arithmetic; however, in this age of computers, tablets, and smart phones, perfect penmanship isn’t necessary. How much time do you spend typing on electronic devices versus writing by hand? Which of these gets more attention in school?

Our education system should be facilitating opportunities for children to develop research, computer, communication, creative thinking, and problem solving skills. We need a system that encourages children’s innate sense of curiosity and wonder – where asking questions is encouraged and learning becomes a passion. Dr. Mitra suggests that the role of teachers should be to let learning happen, not make it happen.

To achieve this, he proposes a Self-Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) with a simple set of requirements – Broadband + Collaboration + Encouragement. People can create a SOLE at home, school, or after school programs using a free online toolkit. More specifically, he advocates creating flexible groups of 4 students working together using a computer with Internet access and large sheets of paper for their notes and findings to tackle big questions like Is life on earth sustainable?, How was music created?, and Who made the alphabet?

Unfortunately, with our country’s current focus on standardized test achievement, SOLE probably won’t become an integral part of public education, but maybe SOLE could be used for enrichment at home, school, and after school programs.

Although our family has yet to try the SOLE model, we’ve had some success with self-directed research and learning including the articles our daughters have written for this newsletter. When they find a topic or burning question, we give them the time and resources for open exploration. We’ve been astounded by their discussions, short reports, and animated PowerPoints.

A lazy summer day at home seems like a perfect opportunity for self-directed learning. Have your children done it? Any interest in experimenting with it? Give it a try and let us know what happens!

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