This morning I read an interesting post on the future of education. I thought it would be interesting to have some members of LessWrong discuss it. I know it is idealistic, but some of the points raised were interesting.
The Future of Education
Through an anomaly in the space-time continuum, I fell into the future last week. It was an odd sensation … traveling through time. But at least I made it back. I spent the time I had there at a local school and thought I would share what I saw …
Grades are gone.
Kids aren't in grade 1 or grade 3 … which was described to me as a "rudimentary" way to "cattle" students. The admins were gentle about it, explaining to me that when school was paper based, there just wasn't the facility to customize the classroom to the student. They explained that even though it was horribly inefficient, they understood why it needed to exist. They did point out that it ran a decade too long, affecting millions … but I changed the subject before it got ugly.
Instead, kids in school have individual achievement levels, which are different for every subject. They have 0-1800 points in each subject. Each student works at their own pace through these milestones and moving forward when they get near perfect scores. A student might have 1500 in one subject and 400 in another. Because everything is online and integrated, there aren't really "grades" like A, B, C, and D … kids are just accumulating points.
When kids max out in a subject, they can spend more time on other subjects; if they are on pace (they are expected to accumulate 100 points a year), they can create independent studies. Many students work very hard to move through the point structure so they can have more free time … which is structured but still up to them. Added resources are applied to students more than 100 points behind their pace. You end up with 20% of the students passing through the system with very little help beyond the structure, 60% getting some help, and 20% getting a much larger amount of attention to move through the system.
Lectures are gone
Lectures the way we know them don't really exist. Most of school is divided into 4 processes: Movies, Games, Projects and Discussion. Movies and Games largely exist on the tablets every student has (these look like iPads but they roll up into a baton-like structure). Projects are done with other students … there are very few opportunities to work on projects alone as it's not seen as an effective character development process in today's job world (where the only people working in a vacuum are doing low-paying work). Discussions are lead by subject experts.
These "Subject Experts" are what used to be called teachers. They are a breed among themselves. They are part brainiac in their field, part Tony Robbins. Their job is to make their subject exciting to learn.
Usually, they begin training for their position very early in life, adding heavy levels of presentation and interpersonal skills to their study load. They work as assistants after reaching 1800 levels in all subjects and focus on a particular subject to master. They train, practice and are allowed to present for basic student events for about decade before they are actually allowed to "solo" an educational subject. It's an incredible amount of work but it also pays well -- salaries for these experts average in what is, in today's money, about $300,000 a year, with the top experts making over a $1M a year. This is largely based on their demand globally. Students are essentially given what is the equivalent to a voucher for discussions and are able to choose their lecturers for each seminar they choose to attend.
There are less of them, as you might guess. Typically about 50,000-100,000 of them at any one time -- much less than the 4M that were working at the peak of the process in the US. While this sounds crazy, we have to remember that most of the objective training is happening interactively within the training tools. There are also over 2,000,000 assistants vying for the Expert positions, providing ongoing support for the students and smaller talks. These assistants are paid, but it's a hard life while they prove themselves.
The discussions are really global events: students attend from all over the world. Some are in theatres together, some are at home, some are in smaller event locations. Students at these events are of all ages. They attend based on their achievement levels, not their age. So you may have 1000 students from 15 countries, aged from 10 to 18. Questions are posted and voted on by the group to percolate to the top and be discussed by the expert (or experts -- there are often people from given industries participating in these events). The events are productions, usually with intense graphics and TV-level production values.
Top content experts are often the designers and hosts for the online training tools that all students use for their ongoing training. These movies provide core knowledge that is part of the interactive guides that students use to move through their subject matter. These movies are Star Wars-level FX films that explain the subject matter. Some of them are period pieces, some are animated adventures. I'm told as Hollywood stumbled and the education system began to build, many producers moved to this content for survival.
These movies are closely connected to games that the students play -- while they might be something that looks like a geeky version of "Civilizations" or a first person-shooter from the Civil War, or a Physics game that requires students to understand gravity, momentum, etc. The games are not an extra -- they are required and the student scores are connected to their overall achievement scores. These games don't look like the square interactive "Educational" games today. In fact, they have nearly replaced the mindless games of today. I'm told as the government started spending billions on game development, EA and others could A) see that there was money to be made and B) could see there wouldn't be much time to play other games … leading to the new "development gaming" movement.
Projects are really global affairs. As students reach a required project in a subject (based on their point path), they go online to find others around the world in the same situation. These teams are usually 4-6 people and dig into creating interactive reports that are a mix of video, animation, and text. In addition to deepening subject understanding, the projects are designed to build global relationships and communication. Students are not permitted to do more than 3 projects with the same people in their career. They do rate each other, which builds a bit of a "global team marketplace." Project teams need to have an "Average" score … meaning, high-scoring individuals are encouraged to bring in one or two individuals with lower scores to help them progress. Students are first teamed with "Assistant" mentors, then industry mentors and then industry experts (who are partially in it to recruit students out of school, as their companies pay top dollar for the ability to participate in the "advance" programs, and finding qualified talent has become an incredibly competitive market).
Subjects are slightly adjusted.
Languages (most kids learn English, Chinese, French or Spanish, and an elective language which can things like Japanese, Russian, Arabic or Sign Language). Students are required to be fluent in 4 languages by age 16. Most begin at 4 or 5. A large portion of this training looks like "Rosetta Stone"… then students get into more conversational classes (vocabulary drills are all on the tablets). By age 12, many students are simply taking classes in other languages.
Math - Pretty much the same but with an emphasis on problem solving. There are many fewer equations and more integrated problems. Of course, the students are much more advanced as the more interactive teaching processes have been extremely effective in this area.
Literature - An odd thing to call it given I never saw a book or anything that resembled it. Still, students listen to the classics and discuss the philosophical implications.
Sciences - Kids start in Physics almost at day one. They learn about basic engineering principles in the 300 levels (what could be kind of considered 3rd grade, but it's really what was taught in high school before).
Global Society (what used to be called Civil Studies and History) - Understanding how cultures around the world evolved to their current state. Understanding one's own state is important, but usually only addressed in the global context.
Personal Development - Now considered one of the most important skills in a highly competitive global jobs market, kids are educated from nearly day one on effective person skills. These skills are not moral or religious, just simply good operating behaviour … and what it takes to be effective.
Creative Arts - From Drawing to Music to Performing Arts … these skills are seen as intrinsic to creating a "Creative" individual that can think their way through the complex issues of the day. In the West, there aren't many "doing-only" jobs that haven't shipped overseas or replaced by technology. As a result, being creative has become much more important.
Physical Arts (what used to be PE) - Ah, the days of Kickball are gone. This is a fairly gruelling daily regime that includes nutrition education and customized exercise processes. Martial Arts, Gymnastics and other dexterity building classes are the norm. Over 25% of the student body globally is a Black Belt. This has more to do with training the mind and self-esteem than person protection.
I asked how this happened in the US … I was told it didn't. In fact, the US was one of the last countries to adopt the still-controversial system. The stakeholders at the time resisted the change and called it too radical to be even tested. The result has been a steep investment to catch up with other countries and much higher unemployment in the US... as many of the information age jobs left the US over the 15 years they resisted the changes.
The revolution actually began in the emerging world, specifically in Africa. New fibre running into East and Southern Africa empowered African nations, with too many kids and not enough teachers, to augment their staff with new videos and interactive learning. The students of these early systems not only learned much faster, but become the most facile at building the content (as they were very familiar with it). I was told as much as 60% of all the content in the global infrastructure is created in Sub-Saharan Africa (Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Tanzania).
Anyway, when I arrived back in this time, I wrote this all down as fast as I could to remember it. I hope you find it useful.
Was it really just a dream? I don't know. But if it is was a dream, it was a really good one.