Is the internet Killing Scottish Teaching?

Without going too much into the details last term my daughter’s school unilaterally decided to prevent her doing German – due entirely to the school ordaining the children will no longer do as many Nat 5 (equivalent to English O levels).

As parents, we strongly made the point that because her elder brother had successfully self-taught himself via the internet through much of the Physics curriculum (which the school failed to deliver in full), that our daughter could (with a little help from the school) do the same with German.

What surprised me was the strenuous and ardent “NO IT IS NOT POSSIBLE” that we got from the school. The more odd, because it was clearly very possible for children to self-teach themselves as our son had admirably shown.

Instead, it was clear that rather than it being impossible for children to self-teach, it was clear they could and were self-teaching – but instead it was impossible for teachers to cope with this new world where their role was being reduced to that of a guide to assist self-teaching rather than the previous role of “know it all guru”.

At the time, I wrote to a few politicians about the problems we were having and in addition added my concerns that Scottish school teachers seemed incapable of handling the change that the internet was forcing upon schools as pupils increasingly made use of online resources as a complement to class teaching or in many cases (like my son) replacing traditional class teaching.

So, I was not surprised to read the headline that came out today:

‘Mass exodus’ of Scots teachers as 40% plan to leave profession

Researchers said Scottish teachers were suffering a range of difficulties including high levels of demands, poor support from management, and are exposed to a lot of organisational change without consultation.

In part I would agree that the Scottish government is largely to blame for the crisis – although to be fair – the real disaster was the very wrongly named “Curriculum for excellence” which was a labour inspired change that has seen a disastrous drop in standards.

However the problems clearly go much wider. But whilst there are many unspecific grumbles and concerns such as:

urgent action to make teaching a more attractive profession, with better working conditions, to ensure we can continue to attract and retain highly qualified graduates into teaching.

there is nothing specific or actionable that I can see within the article that goes anywhere near explaining the crisis within Scottish teaching. And if nearly half the workforce are planning to leave – it is undoubtedly the biggest crisis I’ve ever seen in any profession!

It was the internet wot done it

That is what makes me think, that the real crisis teaching may be facing is a subtle loss of professional status and kudos as (like our own children) pupils increasingly turn to the internet which  now provides better teaching than some (most?) provided by Scottish teachers. And no doubt whilst teachers could not openly admit it, both the teachers and the pupils will know when they are providing lower standard teaching than can be readily accessed elsewhere on the internet.

And yes! In their place – if I had learnt my subject a few decades before, and I now found that pupils through the internet had more up to date knowledge and no longer needed me – I’d also feel pretty pathetic and I’d be thinking of a job elsewhere.

New Technology could replace teachers

And this brings me to the real crux of the argument. If the internet can, and in many cases is, replacing teachers. Then with a little time and government investment it seems inevitable that new technology will replace traditional teaching.

In other words, just as manufacturing saw a wholesale change as production workers were laid off by new technology … so it seems inevitable that there must be a similar downsizing or down-skilling of the teaching workforce as new technology such as the internet replaces traditional teaching.

And that I think is why I recognised the “vibes” when we started talking to teachers about self-learning. Just as the manufacturing workforce were extremely militant in the face of new technology – to the extent they closed down the place I used to work, so I could see the same kinds of views and militancy in teaching when we went to speak to them.

And that strongly suggests, that not only could new technology replace teachers – but teachers inherently know that their jobs are under threat and that is why they want out.

And the worst thing of all – is that our politicians are such gormless twits – that I think they are entirely clueless about what could and indeed is happening to teaching.

The undermining of teacher’s “authority” as supposed “experts”

Anyone who has ever met any of the climate zealots will know that they all argue from the basis of “authority” – that is to say, their whole argument is of the form:

  1. Academics (who they falsely describe as “scientists”) are experts.
  2. You are not an expert (they say this even to those like me when I’ve spent more than a decade working on climate)
  3. Because academics are (supposedly) experts and you are (supposedly) not – you must accept what the academics say (even when they make statements entirely outside their own area of (limited) competence).

What is important here, is that the reason this argument no longer persuades – is because with the advent of the internet, the barrier to ordinary people becoming experts disappeared. And now, not only can ordinary people become experts but many are undoubtedly much better experts than most academics stating their own views on climate.

But just as adults from outside teaching have been empowered by the internet in the area of climate, so pupils can be similarly empowered by the internet in areas they are being taught. And if the fractious response of academics in the area of climate is anything to do by, I can only imagine that teachers are extremely hostile to pupil’s self-empowerment through the internet.

The reason is that when pupils gain direct knowledge through the internet, it bypasses the teacher thus reducing their value and authority. Indeed, I would be pretty certain that teachers these days are daily being pushed by pupils who (as in the area of climate) now know more than the teachers.

This I believe is the real crisis: teacher’s that traditionally could expect and demand respect as experts in their subject, are now being shown up as pretty lacklustre by pupils that can rapidly become quite expert themselves through the internet.

That does not mean pupils can do without teachers entirely – but it does mean that teachers that previously could hide their mediocre knowledge must be finding that they are daily being challenged by their pupils. And if the viciousness of academia toward climate sceptics is even modestly shown by teachers – teaching must be becoming a hellhole for anything but the very best, enthusiastic teachers.

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3 Responses to Is the internet Killing Scottish Teaching?

  1. TinyCO2 says:

    The reason teachers are leaving is because of the behaviour of the kids and the lack of authority to do anything about it. But that’s another issue.

    http://www.bishop-hill.net/discussion/post/2680258

    I wrote about digital education at BH. I think that the future is to go digital but I don’t see teachers vanishing from that equation. I don’t see why the education dept isn’t starting to produce course packages that can be delivered to kids by a relatively unskilled teacher in that subject. It would include video footage, activities to boost interaction, all the things a really organised lesson plan would involve – and that’s actually hard to do for lone teachers. The videos would feature all the extras that a high budget documentary would – 3d graphics, celeb presenter, world travel, etc. There would be interactive stuff on computer. Discussion opportunities, the lot. The teacher would then seem to be redundant but in truth they’re needed to keep order, feed the kids the programme and be an expert on the kids, not the subject. The teacher should be focused on the kids not the board. Who is struggling, who is bored, who might be being abused or bullied. For those that are struggling, there could be slower/different videos they can be given to help. For the bored (because they understood quickly), there could be extra information to enrich the basic course. The package could form the basis of home schooling so that they get a standardised education. People could go on holiday in term time if they agree to teach those modules they’ll miss and/or catch up during the summer. Ditto those off sick.

    With lesson packages, almost any teacher could present any subject. Substitute teachers wouldn’t have to specialise and would be able to continue the syllabus without a break or falter. Every class in the country could be studying exactly the same course on the same week (there should be a bit of flexibility for local term times and slower groups but the differences would be clear and kids moving schools or areas could bridge any gap).

    My original comment that spawned the discussion was more about adult education and how it will become sensible for the highly motivated to do their own course online. I’m self taught in Unity 3D and various other graphics packages specifically to learn something that would cost a fortune at Uni. Unity produces its own free training packages because more users means more business. I’m also becoming proficient in a narrow field of history and another in architecture. I’m even incorporating a smattering of archaeology. There isn’t a course out there that could deliver such a course and it would take 3 degrees to draw them all together. When you consider a bill of £90,000 and large chunks of the courses not relevant it makes home study more appealing. I can watch a lot of videos, buy a lot of books and even get a lot of hands on experience for £90,000. However, the driving force all has to come from me. I’m a fairly light handed tutor. I don’t set myself essays and I don’t grumble when things take longer than they should.

    One of the main benefits is I don’t have to learn in a specific order. I don’t know why but an hour of subject A then an hour of subject B etc, doesn’t work for me. It takes me an hour to get into a subject. Under my own timetable I will work for at least 4 hours at a time and then do no other subject but that one for a week. Then I switch, often because a shortage in my knowledge to continue the first subject. When I get bored I swap anyway.

    What has made me take an interest in subjects I previously hate (history) was finding a use for the information. If we could do that for kids, it would revolutionise learning.

  2. James says:

    I just finished my BS in civil engineering. When i did not understand something I went right to google or youtube and someone else had already explained it better than my teacher.

    Their days are numbered.

    • TinyCO2 says:

      It’s quite amazing what’s already been put on the net. I think back to how slow and boring it was to learn stuff in the past. Every now and then you’d get a decent teacher/lecturer but most of the time you coud have condensed the good stuff into a fraction of the time.

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