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How to Cut Out the Middleman on the Road to Academic Success

Being a 50-something who remembers learning to write at school with a nibbed pen you had to keep dipping into an inkwell at a time when most households I knew of didn’t even have a telephone or a television, I have to say that I’m totally rapt in the truly marvellous information and communication technology that has been flowing into my experience over the past decade or less. Especially the internet. It’s absolutely fabulous!

A couple of years ago, when my son was at school, in Year 1, and becoming progressively unhappier with that state of affairs, I used to spend as much time as I could there (up to 10 hours a week in the end), helping out with various things, often participating in activities in the classroom. I couldn’t help but notice how the teaching of every subject seemed to me to be incredibly slow. And I’m talking here about watching paint dry slow!


The actual pace of the teaching may well have been little different from what it was when my now 19-year old daughter was at school throughout the 1990s or when I was at school myself in the 1950s and 60s, but my perception of it was certainly different.

Why? Because the Information and Communication Technology Revolution has so deeply affected how I live my personal daily life – over the past two or three years in particular – that it’s changed what I think about, it’s changed how I do things and it’s changed what I know is possible. Sufficiently in the matter of the third of those to realise that, in any typical classroom in any typical school these days, it’s very likely that there’s a huge discrepancy between what’s possible and what’s actually happening. And I’m talking here about Grand Canyon huge.

Most of today’s ‘school age’ children will also be aware of what’s possible from their own experiences of modern life. Many of them, I suspect, would have very little consciousness, if any at all, of what life was like before the internet and the rest of the ‘quick ‘n’ easy’ gadgets and gizmos that are now the ‘natural’ and dominant features of their culture.

So, it’s no wonder that in today’s school classrooms the traditional methods of educating our children are generating so much conflict. The typical school’s painfully slow by comparison Industrial Revolution-based teaching methods simply don’t match the ICT-driven methods of imparting knowledge that most of today’s children have become accustomed to using in practically every other area of their lives.

When my now 9-year old son plays a Pokemon game on his take-anywhere GameBoy Advance, for example, and he wants to check his collection of items, he taps a couple of buttons and all the information he needs is displayed on the screen. Just like that. Then he switches back to the game and plays on. More info about a certain Pokemon? Tap-tap-tap – it’s there on the screen. How about some cheats or a helpful ‘walkthrough’? Open a browser window on the home computer. Click on ‘Favorites’. Click on the url of your choice. Read what’s on the screen. Nothing to it.

That’s how it’s done these days.

How much longer, then, I wonder, will today’s ‘techno savvy’ children – tomorrow’s parents, consumers and voters – tolerate the idea that ‘being educated’ means being confined in a school building for six hours a day, five days a week, year after ponderous year, so that you can fidget and yawn away your valuable time while the adult keeping you in the room is trying to teach you what you know only too well you could learn more quickly – and in more agreeable circumstances – from your personal computer? If you want to learn it to start with, that is.

And how can any school authority possibly control the truly awesome quantity and quality of information that the internet can now deliver from all over the planet directly into the homes and minds of today’s children? They can’t. Should they choose to do so, there’s nothing to stop anyone who wants to learn for themselves and who has access to the internet from bypassing the institutional school system with the click of a mouse.

Even if every school responded to the ICT Revolution as many schools now are, by plonking a laptop on every student’s desk, what, then, would be the real purpose of this supposed gee whiz techno-wonder 21st century classroom? If all a teacher is going to do is tell their students which particular webpage at Discovery.com, or wherever it is, they should go to for today’s lesson, why would anybody need them there just to do that? And why would anybody need to be sitting at a desk in a classroom in the first place to visit a webpage on a portable computer?

Does anyone really have to go to teacher training college to learn how to load a CD-ROM into a computer and press the ‘play’ button? Or run a streaming video at an educational website? Or download educational software? Or buy an e-book? Or sign up for an email tutorial? Or print out a free worksheet? Or formulate a lesson plan from a website template? Or use a search engine to gather information for a project? Or ask a question at an online forum?

Of course not. We can do all that for ourselves.

We have the internet. In our homes. More than that now, in fact. We can carry it around with us wherever we go.

Don’t expect to hear this from your local Department of Education, but, for the first time since the institutional school system was created 200 years ago, the opportunity now exists for us to educate our children to the prevailing ‘school standard’ or better more efficiently than a school can do it.

In case you missed that, I’ll run it by you one more time.

We can now educate our children ourselves more efficiently than a school can do it for us!

When it comes to doing the ‘real work’ that schools do – the work that, once you’ve stripped away the rituals and fluff that pad out the typical school day, is no more than the plain and simple loading of information and knowledge into our children’s brains – when it comes to getting that job done with the minimum amount of effort so that we can put the information and knowledge to practical use more quickly or take the rest of the day off to go out and play, whichever we prefer – the institutional school system is already outclassed (no pun intended) by what the internet can deliver into our hands right now. Never mind the capabilities that will be at our fingertips in the years ahead.

As an example of how today’s educational options might compare with each other, let’s imagine my son decides that he wants to visit France and he wants to be conversant enough with the language to socialise comfortably with the natives. He wants to learn a foreign language! ‘LOTE’ (Language Other Than English), I believe the subject is called in ‘school jargon’.

My son could, at a set time each day from Monday to Friday, travel to a building that could be some considerable distance from his home (doing this even when it’s pouring with rain or freezing cold because he may be penalised if he doesn’t), to there spend an hour sitting at a desk in a room filled with about thirty other children, many of whom probably won’t be his ‘kind of people’, while a designated adult ‘authority figure’ stands over him and teaches him the French language in small chunks doled out as that adult sees fit – but only for parts of each hour, because much of it will be taken up with managing the behaviour of the children or engaging in self-justificational activities unrelated to the subject of the lesson. My son could do that for forty weeks of the year – taking a break from time to time, especially for six weeks in the summer, so that he has ample opportunity to forget what he’s been taught – and if he’s willing to put up with all this for three years, he’ll hopefully reach the required standard of competency. That’s how I learned French in the 1960s (I’ve got the ‘O’ level to prove it). That’s how most schools still teach it.

Or, my son could, at a set time each day from Monday to Friday, spend an hour sitting at the table in the quiet and peaceful ambience of our dining room here at home while we use text books, audiotapes and videos to teach ourselves the French language. If we work one-to-one for close to fifty-two weeks a year, only the weekends off, less opportunity to forget what’s been taught, etc, it would probably take only two years to reach the required standard of competency – maybe we could even get it down to one year. This would be something in the neighbourhood of conventional ‘homeschooling’.

Or, my wife and I could use a portion of the money we’ve saved on school fees and school uniforms since we took our son out of school to invest in some internet multimedia technology incorporating the latest cutting edge accelerated learning techniques. “Socialise comfortably with the natives,” we might read at a Language School website. “Become competent in only 30-45 hours of tuition over 4-6 weeks in the comfort of your own home sitting at your own computer with a set of headphones on.” That’ll do us. Even better if we can do it on a laptop sitting in the sunshine in our garden.

Educating our children outside the school system used to be a tough option. Now it isn’t. Thanks to the internet, we’ve all been presented with the dizzying potential of a genuinely superior, parent-controlled way of educating our children that is inexorably taking on the shape of water flowing downhill. And, what’s more, flowing downhill faster than schools will be able to keep up with.

Here’s a tiny example of that. Recently, somebody at one of the online forums I occasionally visit asked for some information about a particular subject. At the time, I knew virtually nothing about that subject, but I was curious to know more about it myself. So, did I sign up for a short course at my local adult education centre and sit in a classroom being taught the subject? No. Did I visit my town centre library and take out some books to study the subject at home? No. I opened a new browser window on my computer, went to a search engine website, typed in an appropriate search term, and ten minutes later had six pages of perfectly adequate information saved in a folder on my hard drive. If I’d wanted to go into more detail, two of the several websites I’d visited offered books that I could have ordered there and then using a credit card. (If there had been any e-books available, I could have downloaded one to read the instant I’d paid for it.) All this was achieved in just ten minutes – without me even having to move from my chair.

Can an institutional school system – any institutional school system – compete with that standard of learning efficiency? Not a snowflake’s chance in heck.

Which is why, despite the fact that my wonderful daughter was outstandingly successful throughout every one of her years in the school system (1990 to 2002) – and I’m talking here about Dux of the Year level graduating from high school in the top 1% of students in the Australian Capital Territory successful – and even though I have no particular philosophical or political objections to sending my children to school, I think my now ‘ex-schoolboy’ son will almost certainly never set foot in a conventional classroom again.

To me at least, that makes perfect educational sense.

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