Recently an Israeli fresh teacher, who wanted to give teaching a try after a hi-tech career, published his experiences on a blog. Some of his posts where quite shocking. A few months into teaching at a middle school and this new teacher has decided to give up his teaching career altogether. A university professor who tried to teach math at a middle school also gave it up after a few months. Both complained about the lack of discipline or any interest in learning by the students. They also complained about the indifference of school management.
Observers of the education system in Israel are often expressing concern that Israel could be loosing its competitive stand in the global innovation market if the education here continues to deteriorate at this rate.
Factors mentioned in most reports relate to low salaries of teachers, too few teaching hours in the classroom, too many students per class, not enough computers, not enough classrooms.
No one complained that there are too few books… In fact, no report talked about the intensive production of new school books at all. Books are produced by masses and a school year looks in most cases like a race to complete text books and work books.
I am still looking for a single report that would actually relate to contents, curriculum, relevance, methods. To, well, the system. But all reports assume that this is the system, the system is untouchable and the only thing we can do is upgrade various factors of the system.
I think it’s as if we took a 100 year old car and replaced its gear with a new automatic gear, and its engine with a new engine, or in rare cases, when there’s budget, with a totally new hybrid engine… but would it make it a new car?? Would this car run?
The change has to be total.
The whole system has to be different: Teachers should become learning enablers, guides, assistants. Kids should be encouraged to ask, question, discover and choose. Tests and grades should be abolished. Assessments could be accepted if their purpose is to guide the learners and help them, as a feedback system and evaluation of personal development and growth, and not as a ranking system . Some topics should be taught in classes that are formed on the basis of interest, and not on the basis of age. New subjects should be introduced as basic required knowledge. Those are not regular text book subjects but rather things like information farming, interpersonal skills on and off line, inventive thinking, entrepreneurship skills, self teaching skills. The learning environments should change. No more rows of students facing a teacher, but rather groups of students, working together, creating teams, learning the values of social learning, with the help of a teacher guiding through.
Technology alone can not and will not save our education system. Not in Israel nor any where in the world. It hasn’t done it before…
We should all recognize the fact that technology cannot be treated as a collection of tools anymore. It’s an environment. TV is here to stay. Mobile phones are spreading. The Internet is growing. Kids today cannot imagine a world with no web. Same as my generation cannot imagine living without telephones. Or my parents’ generation that cannot remember a time with no cinema.
So what’s next?
Even a total change has to begin with small steps. I’d start with creating more choices.
Look at this scene several times. It’s Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds”, a movie from 1995, where she plays an ex-marine who becomes a high school teacher. In this scene she talks about choices. The choice to learn or not to learn. The choice to go to school or not. She claims that students who are in the classroom actually made a choice to be there. And yes, we sometimes choose what seems to be least damaging – not necessarily the best – option. “It may not be a choice you like, but it is a choice”, she says. I tend to agree. Sending my kids to school is a choice I make. I might be doing it only because I don’t like the other options – but it is still a choice.
Even though education until the age of 15 is mandatory in Israel, people are still permitted to home-school. Very few do. I chose to send my kids to school. When my daughter was disappointed with high school I told her that she is not obligated by law any more to go to school. If she rather complete her final exams out of school she is free to do so. But it was her choice to stay at school, excusing it with the social life, that is as important as contents, if not more.
So next action item is to create more options. To encourage diversity of schools and methods of teaching and learning. To take little steps out of the box titled “education system” and look for alternatives to methods which don’t work any more. The other corner stone to these new steps is to acknowledge and remember that what is a good system and can work for one person, won’t necessarily work for the other.
It’s time to realize this system can’t continue to send fresh teachers into scary classes of kids who aren’t willing to learn, and think this is the god given unchangeable education system. It is not only changeable, it has to change.