The one thing I would improve in English education, in the UK, is learning ‘how’ to learn. In the Twenty First Century, the process of learning far outweighs the need for change in any other area of education; the content of any academic subject is now easily available on school, college and university websites. There is 100% access to the internet in the younger age ranges with mobile devices offering access to learning on the move. The challenge is ‘how’ to study in a disciplined, systematic, logical, yet creative way.
According to the Webster dictionary the word ‘education’ implies imparting or acquiring knowledge and skill. Imparting knowledge to ‘empty vessels’ where memorisation of material was important, has traditionally been emphasised, often at the expense of acquiring knowledge through exploration. However, this paper proposes that the modern learner, due to the information revolution, is for the first time in history both teacher and student and therefore is required to fully utilise both meanings of education in order to take advantage of all that is available electronically. Having worked in education from primary to higher education I have encountered a range of problems right the way through, which can be summarised as follows: an inability to use higher order reading skills, which involve the selection of relevant main points from supporting detail; an inability to summarise information in a coherent, succinct manner both orally and in written form and an inability to apply basic numeracy. This inability to access information efficiently from the written word and numerical data, which can then be built into a reliable body of knowledge, leaves many students going through the motions of learning, but not actually learning anything worthwhile. Copying and pasting from websites to manufacture so called ‘academic’ essays seems to have replaced the process of assimilating information at a deep level in university. Both understandings of education can be incorporated in easy-to-access stages, but it is imperative that learners are taught the skills of ‘how’ to learn.
Resources could and should be invested in teaching all age groups how to learn; how to combine dis-jointed, readily available facts into coherent bodies of knowledge which can be applied to problem solving. These skills should be taught in primary school and continue to be taught at appropriate stages at undergraduate and even post-graduate levels. The idea that all information is equally valuable is a myth; categorisation of knowledge is essential; students must be taught the inherent criteria governing knowledge hierarchies. Each discipline employs its own value system; thus principles governing science differ from the arts, those in engineering differ from medicine and so on. Teaching people how to access and interpret information within the value system of any given field is key to progressing our conceptual understanding within that field. Epistemology, once only the concern of the philosopher, is now essential to all students browsing the net, if we are to make the best use of the information at our finger-tips.
Children, teenagers and adults must be given the tools to discriminate valid information from the downright drivel which is exploding on our screens. Choosing well documented information from reliable sources on the internet is now one of the biggest challenges facing education. The process of how to discern, how to select, how to utilise good, reliable knowledge, must be seen as a priority. Teachers, tutors and lecturers have a professional duty to guide their students to the most worthwhile contributors to any academic area. English education has been renowned for its encouragement of free, individualised interpretation of the masters. However, the information revolution now requires students to be able to discern, select and utilise information in the same way that teachers have done for centuries; thus enhancing individualised responses in a most creative way, within the framework of the chosen academic field.
As information pertaining to any discipline, from music to accountancy to law to biology is presented in a variety of styles on interactive sites, it is imperative that all students are equipped not just to access the sites (young children seem to be born now with touch screen know-how) but have an understanding of the overarching principles which underpin the information. The ability to read and analyse both language and number, interpret, make value judgements and draw realistic conclusions used to be regarded as the concerns of higher education. However, the plethora of factual information now facing school children in their private study means they need to be well equipped to deal with what’s readily available. Teaching ‘how’ to learn would help to reduce the overwhelming situation many of our school children find themselves in at an early age; a situation which sadly only deteriorates usually over time.
At the other end of the spectrum university fees are becoming more prohibitive, so web based learning is a more realistic alternative for many young adults. Sharing information on the internet is now as easy as sharing dinner; it allows discussion forums, the sharing of documents, audio files, video files and conversations in real-time without restriction. Flexible access to a huge variety of courses is already well established. Indeed, work-based learning, which enables workers of any age to get accreditation at diploma, degree or doctorate level is on the increase in the UK, fully utilising electronic based learning. Therefore, the skills of learning how to learn should be taught from an early age and properly resourced across the whole educational system in the UK in order to capitalise on our ever increasing access to information.
In conclusion, the one thing I would change in education in the UK is a move from content to process. Teaching students ‘how’ to study in a disciplined, systematic, logical, and creative way is the missing link in the information technology revolution.
If students learn how to learn, then society can learn to help itself. People will be empowered, by gaining autonomy in their lives, they will have the resources to take responsibility for themselves. They will also be enabled to contribute to society in a meaningful way, which will surely lead to a more equitable, sustainable future.