There was a man called Frederick Taylor, also known as the Father of Industrial Engineering, who published a book called The Principles of Scientific Management in 1911. In that book, which was highly influential in shaping the progressive era, he wrote that you could dramatically increase industrial productivity by measuring and systemizing the assembly line. His method became the standard and undoubtedly boosted industrial productivity. But the problem is that we started applying this in developing the model of education and have not changed the model as yet.
I present to you, the biggest villain in today’s education – the Linear Factory Model of Education. It is the single most deadly thing which is preventing education systems across the world from improving and restricting student learning and development. In an era where we need creative and experienced individuals, not information storing and quick adding robots, this is absolutely not the model of education we should subscribe to.
Why? Where does this educational model go wrong? Well, it subscribes to
- Measuring and testing every student often (usually 3-4 times per year with 1-2 of them being summative assessments).
- Figuring out which inputs are likely to create testable outputs. Just teach skills in which expertise can be tested quantitatively.
- If an output isn’t easily testable, ignore it. You can’t measure creativity quantitatively, so why bother?
Yes, I do agree that this model of education was effective back in the day when we needed a ‘large human computer’ where records were hand kept, there were hardly any telephones, and you needed to travel through a slower medium of transport. Back then we needed obedient, local and cheap workers having a history of compliance in school. But unfortunately, the skills we desperately need in the present and especially the future aren’t the same things that are easy to test. That’s where this old educational model goes wrong.
We are in the midst of one of the most disruptive, yet exciting times in the history of human existence: The Machine Age. Petabytes of information are readily available to us with the touch of a button or the swipe of a finger across a screen. Technology is changing the way almost all industries work beyond recognition. As said above, it is also changing the nature of what skills humans need to succeed. This has profound implications for our education systems – our models need to be much more efficient to help many more learners succeed in the long run.
Students need to be taught how to use the vast array of information available to them. Yes, I am not denying that mechanical knowledge and skills are important, but an educational model which is linear and only supports mechanical knowledge is not enough to cope with the challenges that the future presents. Creativity and experience are going to be very important determiners of success in a future where so many jobs would be automated. Let us remind ourselves that robots are just adding machines – they do sums faster than you do, giving you the illusion that they are intelligent. The Industrial Revolution is over. It is high time we realise that and prepare our students for the Machine Revolution that we are undergoing right now.
How do we improve our model of education then? According to me, we need to consider the following points:
- Effective incorporation of ed-tech: With the emergence of online learning platform and social networking, students are able to connect, communicate and collaborate with their peers and teachers to extend learning beyond the walls of the classroom. Earlier, time and location used to be constant in the learning process. Nowadays, these are variable and learning is constant. Effective use of technology will greatly enhance the ability of students to learn when they want, wherever they want, and in a much better way than ever before. So, let’s embrace educational technology!
- Support emergence of more learning engineers: Technology is changing rapidly, and so are the accompanying necessary skills. Gone are the days when we could just pass some skills on to students and ensure a steady income for them based on those skills. Learning environments need to evolve continuously in these fast-changing times. There are not even thousands of true learning engineers working in either of India or USA. We need to transform the model of education as soon as possible. For that, we need to have learning engineers who research in this area working in an innovation-driven environment, incorporating real-time change, and being patient in expecting results.
- Focus on development of globally relevant skills: The job market is going to be turned upside down in the future. Middleman jobs like travel agents, paralegals, etc. would be phased out over time. We need to ingrain skills like curiosity, communication skills, creativity, critical thinking and grit through the education that we impart.
Considering these points, we can ensure much better education for students in any country, and eventually a brighter future for the world. So, let’s wave goodbye to the Linear Factory Model of Education. 🙂
P.S.: Thanks to @BtrUSEducation for inviting us to debate on US Education.
That invitation was the motivation for this post. Even though we are an Indian startup, we believe that this approach can improve the education system at a global scale.
[Originally published on October 31 2016]