Saturday, February 10, 2018

The School Bias: Why homework takes precedence over learning

It's been a rocky start for MOGwee, and I'm learning the difficulty to create a marketplace that balances supply and demand. Actually, the supply part has not been hard to build. Visiting musical conservatories, universities, political action groups and art studios from Nairobi to Phnom Penh, and working through my local teams, we easily find amazing people who are eager to share their perspectives and skills. We have uncovered incredible personal stories, and put together Study Projects that (we think) could excite young people to look at everyday problems--from trash to hand-washing to election campaigns-- in new ways.

But demand has been the tough nut to crack. And I mean really tough. I was disappointed, but not too surprised when one American high school teacher told me that her students have second-grade reading levels, and that she would be unable to attempt any of these studies in class. MOGwee targets bright students who are personally driven to learn. But it looks like those very students are the most straight-jacketed, least exploratory of all.

"Our focus is on AP test scores," one principal told me. "Our students will only go above and beyond if they get college credit," another principal said. "This is all very nice, but my daughter has homework, band rehearsal and lacrosse," one mother complained. I realized that MOGwee sits to the side of the conveyor belt that is teen college-prep, and that's a fatal place to be.

But what's startling is how many young adults admit (if you ask them), that they feel lost and meaningless in the process. Why am I factoring this quadratic equation? Why am I listing the three properties of igneous rock? Why am I making a Prezi about the water cycle? One secondary teacher remarked thoughtfully, "Our students' days are regulated from the moment they wake up til the moment they go back to sleep, and we can hardly depart from curriculum. But when they're 17, we say, 'So whad'ya wanna be when you grow up?'" What do we expect?
David Jenkins (right) initiates plan with Principal Kamara,
United Methodist Church Secondary School in Bo City, Sierra
Leone, for pilot group of "independent study program"
(homeschooling is not legal) under their auspices. 

So recently I began working with my partners in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan to try to help young people break away from the conveyor belt process. Let's call it the Breakaway Learning Project. We're mobilizing the (very few) teens brave enough to say "no" to standard curricula, and setting them up in small mentored teams with individualized curricula that draw on MOGwee, edX, Coursera, Khan Academy, Brilliant, Codecademy and more.

I believe the demand for inspiring, individualized learning is out there. It just needs to be emancipated.

No comments:

Post a Comment