Weird incident this year. A friend of mine’s son wanted to do an IT course at sixth form college that required a B pass in Higher Level Maths GCSE. His teacher point blank refused to put him in the higher class or enter the exam. I gave him the Higher Paper and he scored a C months before the exam, so couldn’t see the problem. If he was a C student with months to go, a B was achievable. Despite appeals by his parents, the maths teacher was belligerent and wouldn’t teach him at this level. Our one victory was that we insisted that he get put in for the Higher exam.
I do free maths tutoring for kids who are struggling with the subject, and helped him get his B. He’s now in college, enthusiatic about the subject, and even chose to do A-level maths. What annoyed me about this was the arrogance of the teacher and the school. They were clearly hedging students into lower qualifications to play safe on their exam results, a despicable and morally bankrupt approach that puts the interest of the institution above the students they are meant to serve.
It was with some delight, therefore, that I saw the BBC report on children being tutored in maths by highly qualified teachers in India via headphones and computers. The service is being provided to 7-16 year olds by Brightspark and is available 24/7 for both parents at home and in some schools.
Ashmount Primary School’s Rebecca Stacey, Assistant Headteacher and Head of Key Stage 2 in Islington, comments:
“BrightSpark Education is effective because it provides targeted one-to-one maths help for students through online technology, which would otherwise be too expensive to facilitate. Each of our pupils who have used it have improved and become more confident in their maths ability. They have learnt to express their thinking and use mathematical vocabulary correctly…….It has also given pupils the perfect opportunity to work online and improve their IT skills at the same time. Many pupils intend to sign up at home to benefit from the service for their homework and revision.”
Given the poor quality of many maths teachers and the shortage of suitably qualified staff, surely this is the way forward. In fact, this approach may well prove superior to the maths teaching in many of our schools, in terms of both quality and cost. The fact that the service can be used as a supplement, at home, is a big plus. Parents are already paying way more than this for tutors, many who are working teachers, so it’s a cultural fit. The reaction of the children (watch the BBC interviews with the kids using the service and you’ll see that they value it more than classroom teaching) says it all.
Learndirect – faceless blended learning
One of the reasons I love this approach is that in my own experience, as a Director of Learndirect, I’ve sat in on lots of telephone and online tutoring sessions from the Learndirect call centre in Leicester. It provides numeracy and literacy training to people direct top their homes, with no face-to-face components. It’s heartwarming to hear people with very poor numeracy and literacy respond with real enthusiasm to telephone and online services, with absolutely NO face-to-face support.
The learners are pleased not to be attending a class, college or school, as that, for them, is associated with past failure in their own lives. They are learning in the comfort and safe environment of their own home, free from the tyranny of time and location. The system works by responding to telephone and web enquiries, doing a quick online diagnosis, then being helped through the learning by friendly tutors. The learners go at a pace suited to their ability and circumstances.
This is not so different from the 200,000 Open University students, none of whom are on campus. As the largest university in the UK by miles, and the one that scores consistently higher than the others on student satisfaction, we have the answer to education staring us in the face – get rid of the faces!
Let me be quite clear here. We are now in a position of seeing learning delivered more efficiently to both children and adults that is free from face-to-face teaching, and altogether better because of that fact. We are not getting rid of teachers but positing an alternative to the classroom as the main environment in which teachers’ teach. Huge productivity gains can be offered by teachers who tutor online, handling multiple students, with good online resources that deliver much of the core content. The teacher can then focus on motivation, problem solving and feedback.
OK, having freeing learners from the tyranny of fixed time and location, the next step is to free them from fixed devices, namely fixed computers. This, of course, has already happened. The market penetration of mobile devices has outstripped that of fixed devices, and offer web services, apps, and access that will eventually outstrip traditional learning.
Neil Lascher’s phone2learn uses voice recognition and text to speech technology to provide what he tongue-in-cheek, calls just-too-late learning. True performance support on mobile devices. Google Goggles, the astounding visual search engine, promises a point and learn service superior to that of many teachers.
Like real journeys, we used to use printed atlases and maps (books), then journey printouts from websites (e-learning & personalised journeys) and now Satnav (realtime knowledge acquisition). The classroom is looking like an increasingly tired and inefficient space for learning.