Monday, September 29, 2014

HOW FREE & FREER EDUCATION CAN WORK & WHY IT IS IMPORTANT


“Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” Lenin



Excerpts from main body


Canada is waning in competitiveness. One of the primary influences on competitiveness is education – we simply need to outperform our competitors in this regard to garner a prosperous place in the new world.  With the rapid expansion of human knowledge and other counties like China, which produces 300,000 engineers per year; to compete we need to increase the tempo, volume and scope of learning. The present modality of transferring knowledge is the key limiting factor in the transition to a knowledge economy. The present funding perspective, both its generosity and flow of funds is the key limiting factor to the accelerated positive societal effect of better, varied and more education. We tout ascendancy on the value chain as our salvation on road to prosperity in a globalised world, yet our approach to transferring knowledge is stagnate and is impairing our societies over all ability to utilize fully its human capital or to simulate adequate absorptive capacity to deploy new technology. A monolith has evolved called the British Columbia education system, where the transfer of knowledge has become abstracted from outcome and abducted by the system away from its recipients.

Presently, university student funding, for example, is only partially provided by government and often leaves students burdened by substantive debt. The benefits to society of education are readily quantifiable. We know that the average wage earner generates about $10,000 net to the government each year, where a doctor generates perhaps $100,000 net to the government each year; the relative value of the doctor is clear in terms of government revenue. If the government gives a student $500,000 to educate them self as a doctor, the government will enjoy a net benefit of $1.75 million, assuming a 25 year average working life. This concept is extremely simple, yet it is rarely posited effectively. It is rare that a quantifiable benefit can be expressed in the context of government expenditure. Free education is beneficial and plausible providing that the entities delivering it have their actions rationalised by real demand for knowledge and that demand comes from the "market", as opposed to institutional perception, which is often dulled by institutional interest. 


Please read below for another perspective on our education system, we can and must do better. For British Columbia to prosper, education must prosper, for education to prosper it needs resources and an unencumbered operating regime.  

This is an excerpt from a discussion paper sent to the BC Government at the beginning of their last term. One questions, has the system improved the quality and tempo of the transfer of information? As a supporter of this government, I had hoped with a new mandate that it could find the courage to make the reforms so badly required; to step "outside the box" and help, British Columbia and Canada at large, to close the productivity gap and secure a better future for our children. We need to be generous and prudent in the funding of education, we need to have the courage to let go of conventions.

Preamble

Canada is waning in competitiveness. One of the primary influences on competitiveness is education – we simply need to outperform our competitors in this regard to garner a prosperous place in the new world.  With the rapid expansion of human knowledge and other counties like China, which produces 300,000 engineers per year; to compete we need to increase the tempo, volume and scope of learning. The present modality of transferring knowledge is the key limiting factor in the transition to a knowledge economy. The present funding perspective, both its generosity and flow of funds is the key limiting factor to the accelerated positive societal effect of better, varied and more education. We tout ascendancy on the value chain as our salvation on road to prosperity in a globalised world, yet our approach to transferring knowledge is stagnate and is impairing our societies over all ability, to utilize fully its human capital or to simulate adequate absorptive capacity to deploy new technology. A monolith has evolved called the British Columbia education system, where the transfer of knowledge has become abstracted from outcome and abducted by the system away from its recipients.

The reform required for our school system will take political courage. The net result would be better remunerated and more engaged teachers, and a liberated circumstance in which parents and students can choose the learning they desire.  Through the development of a more liberated state, the system as whole, will better address the demands brought forth by British Columbia’s pursuit of regional advantage and prosperity. There is political opportunity for the present government at this early stage of its mandate to effect meaningful change on our school system by a single simple strategy, fund the recipients of knowledge as opposed to the providers. A very cursory examination of society at large reveals that, whenever a service’s furtherance is dependent on those being severed, services are more rapidly improved.     

The following shares some thoughts on the rationale for fragmenting the present monolithic that is our education system. Join me in the contemplation of another way of doing education that promises to humanise and accelerate British Columbia’s education processes. 

Situation Analysis 

Our schools are conditioning houses, rather than drawing out individual strengths, they condition children, in the words of Voltaire regarding religion “they put the bit in their teeth and the bridle on their heads”.  The worst aspect of our school system is that it conditions children to find solution by what an institution offers, rather than a solution that they can dream of; this stifles creative solution from the individual and propagates the expansion of institutionalisation in society at large – a trend that in part spawns from our education systems, a trend that needs to be challenged. This institutional inertia tends to lock us in modes of action precluding even the contemplation of a different course.

Education is the passing of knowledge from those with knowledge to those who can use it. Enlightenment is the development of self in a bath of ideas. For individuals and society, a diversity of ideas is critical, for from the fountain of diverse thought comes diverse solution. In the same way that mass media has generalized societal narrative, condensing sum of human endeavour into the actions of a half dozen stereotypes, monolithic government institutions reduce the breath of a child's exposure. There was a time when "school of thought" was a common phrase in the Canadian lexicon, how often do you hear it now? In the homogenization of society, vital diversity is sacrificed. Monolithic institutions are by their very nature antithetical to diversity and inherent in that reality is the suppression of the individuality. 

The implementers of education policy are immersed in a systemic circumstance that is archaic in design - entrenched by tradition and propagated by the established. This reality generates institutions that are cumbersome, somewhat stodgy and are absent the ability or willingness to respond to the dynamic generated by the rapidly changing occupational landscape and the resulting educational demands. It seems to the outside observer that the established elements in the education system are impairing absorptive capacity of education organizations. The educational order precludes the emergence of the free flow of information validated by credentials, as there is a culture that places as high a value on "time in learning" as it does knowledge gained - education appears to be a process of "paying dues" rather than a process of gaining knowledge to generate results.

Teachers, governments and educational administrators are, in the main, well intended people committed and eager to effectively execute their respective responsibilities, the challenge is that they are faced with a centrally planned monolithic organization and in a centrally planned monolithic organisations, institutional momentum precludes the ability of people within them to be flexible in response to the individual, new technology, and new requirements that arise from the advancement of society. 

There is a an iron curtain around our present way of delivering education, an iron curtain made of good intent and certainly some good result. One could engage in a statistical substantiation or deriding of the present system, somebody always has a number, when a better course of thought is simply to ask “can it be better?”. The primary paradigm behind the present system is the assurance that, regardless of socioeconomic circumstance, a child receives an education requisite and commensurate to their perceived abilities as determined by a system made by academics for academics. This sentiment is an important element to providing all with an equitable start in life. The challenges are that, the present proponents of the system are confusing equitable with equal and equal is often synonymous the same, and the world is space where people other than academics generate some of the best results. So rather than systems that morph to the preferences and needs of individual people, providing responsiveness and excellence, we have a system (to be fair) that works ok for most – BUT is most unexceptional. 

We have the opportunity for a thousand flowers to bloom, to segment the delivery of education in a way that more methods of delivery of knowledge can find expression and different knowledge exchanged. Our present system is instating a single school of thought and what is emerging out the other end is a nation of group think, rather than a nation of individuals who have had access to a diversity of education opportunity, or a nation of groups of individuals with different modalities of thought. In the same way a monoculture in a forest risks the forest as a whole, so to is a society at risk, absent diversity of thought and approach.

The present system does possess one strong element, which is that the monolithic system provides a base of commonality throughout all socioeconomic and ethnic sectors of society. There is some merit to this occurrence as children gain insight into the lives of others experiencing different aspect of society. This commonalty can provide a bonding for society as a whole, as well as contributing to a more cohesive societal narrative. While this one element is put at risk by allowing the segmentation of the system, the potential for improvement by allowing the full breath of human creativity to come to bear on the challenge of education, absent the constraints of the monolithic institution, has much promise. The risk of a change in narrative is out weighted by the benefit of a more diversified system. In the presence of mass media and the presence of such tremendous influence toward a common human narrative, a segmented education system may well provide a valuable counter influence.         

Our present system has as a distressing element, the complete absence of spirituality. What then fills the void for spirituality is Secular Humanism. Granted, Secular Humanism is a worthy world perspective and encourages acceptance of all faiths or non faith; often acceptance of all faiths is the absence of faith or some exploration of ideas pertaining to the meta physical aspects of human experience. For thousands of years, people have been creating religions to deal with what lies beyond the parameters of the absolutes that human knowledge can provide – nary a single society has been without something and the ones without spiritual pursuit tend to have been ugly. Yet our education system seems content to avoid the subject. My assertion here is absent any theological bias, only to make the point, to attempt to enlighten youth absent exposure to some spiritual element is a shame. Spirituality lets us marvel at the majesty of the unknown and gives a valid theory on which to think about the unknown. There is a technocratic culture emerging, and in the absence of spiritual influence, we could end up going where technology takes us. The present reliance in our system on the Secular Humanist is deficient and yet the present configuration of the system is unable to address this issue effectively; no cross-cultural, cross-religion state operated and centrally planned education system ever will, as it is bound by a secular imperative. Secularism is a mechanism to permit all roads to enlightenment as opposed to substitute for spiritual pursuits. Yes, you can just separate education from spiritual considerations as we have done to some extent, but somehow there seems to be important context lost. How can you consider the last 2000 years of history without contemplating all the effects, good and bad, of Christianity. To see the past and to explore the future, some means of considering the metaphysical / spiritual planes, in my experience at any rate, is most enlightening, liberating and useful.

It is amazing to me that a child can finish grade seven having been taught about gravity and yet is absent an understanding of supply and demand, it is an outrage that this condition still exists in grade 12. The public school system seems to possess a bias or perhaps a distain for the market place and the marvels it provides. Inherent in people with a life time exposure to institutional thought is an unwillingness to recognise or to extend validity to individual action, such as entrepreneurship. Business and economics are the most relevant lens through which we can view the world, and yet they are almost completely unrepresented in our school system. There is a culture in Canadian society at large, that I think finds its origins to some extent in our education system, that the exchange of money or it’s inclusion in actions somehow sullies those actions. Money is only an abstract representation of human action, if you dislike what you see remember you’re looking at us. The lack of recognition in the education system for economics, markets and business shines a glaring light both on a bias by the education establishment and a detachment from what really makes the world work, human enterprise. This detachment from the real economy finds expression in a number of ways in the system as it now functions, but perhaps the most disturbing is the lack of examination of the real economy in the curriculum. I wanted my children to learn this important element of life, yet it was unrepresented in our system.    

The Way Forward

One of our greatest wellsprings of advancement has been the mingling disparate family memes as facilitated by the formation of family, resulting in a random phenotype that has generated a cultural / knowledge response ideally suited to human advancement. This ongoing dynamic is vital to ensure the continued existence of varied human response to life challenges. In recognition of this wonderful dynamic, government needs to direct resources toward better supporting parents to raise and educate their own children and move away from the premature institutionalization of children. Young parents are being forced into the most distressful circumstance of having to relinquish their treasured children's upbringing to others. I appreciate that some young families are absent the knowledge to properly address needs of early childhood development, however, these cases are few compared to the vast majority of families who find excellence in child rearing. There exists a "professional arrogance" that has some believing professional's knowledge can somehow replace a loving parents interest. Government actions in cases of underprivileged families’ needs to be the provision of intelligence related to early childhood development and in doing so the children and the parents derive benefit by growing together.

It seems clear to me that segmenting the school system, allowing hundreds or thousands of different models to emerge holds such wonderful opportunity. There is a long established tradition of delivering education presently which provides methods and expertise. This body of knowledge would provide an effective floor on quality, even in the sudden complete absence of government influence over schooling, in the presence of an orderly restructuring; the present level of education would be maintained in the short term and most certainly enriched in the medium and long term.  

One needs only consider the forms schools might take, under certain performance criteria with respect to the basics, parents may choose schools that best suit their value structure, or what they deem important in education. They may choose school bases on religion, they may choose school targeted to arts, industrial arts or business. They may choose schools such as Waldorf Schools or other schools based on one philosophy or another. The full panoply of educational possibilities would become available. Presently we have plain vanilla with a grey institutional cloud hanging over it, functional and somewhat effective, yet so much more could be created absent the constraints the present system imposes.

When you examine any service provided by the private sector, from food to hotels, the most contrasting feature to our present education system is the richness and variety of the service offering. Public finance of the education system is essential to ensure access to education for all and to draw resources from the body general to allow strong funding of the system. What is unnecessary and perhaps stifling and hence undesirable, is the total public management of schools. So much of the resources we put into the public system gets taken in administration and the construction of schools. If you give the funds to individuals to direct, most assuredly, resources would find a more efficient use. Perhaps instead of building a new school, a “school” might rent a spot for the children to learn, or some other circumstance may provide housing for a school.

The concept of a building to house a school, particularly in more senior educational pursuits is quickly being rendered obsolete, and ability for the education system to effectively adapt new technologies is retarded by the entire establishment around the education system. The practice of a teacher standing at the front of a room full of students lecturing is antiquated, there was a time in human history when one person talking to a room full of people was the most efficient way to transfer information; this was before a single person could post their lecture on the internet and broadcast to a million people at once, or better, when the million people can take the information at their leisure. The knowledge of this capability is ubiquitous yet it is only marginally applied. This blatant disregard for such opportunity seems beyond explanation. What is more beyond explanation is, why when cyberspace is so underutilized are we still building more classroom space?

Much of the reluctance to embrace more ephemeral information delivery stems from the bias our society holds for capital projects that result in a concrete outcome like a building, relative to funds invested in intellectual capital – people and electronic materials. This reluctance and lack of measures to account for intellectual capital is broad based, in business we are only now learning how to quantify the value of many forms of intellectual capital as well as human capital. In business new and innovative technologies are being absorbed more rapidly under the riggers of the market place and the resulting pursuit of profit. This motive is unexpressed in our public education systems and as a result public education institutions absorption of technologies is impaired, paradoxically, even when it was public educations systems that created much of the technology in the first place.

Daily government liquidates assets, say oil and unitizes those funds to finance the operation of government. This is an error, as capital should be invested in capital. We have the opportunity to perform the ultimate alchemy, oil to human capital. The absence of effective human capital evaluation techniques and the innate bias possessed by modern government and business toward bricks and mortar, conspire to shift attention away from prudent and profitable investment in education. Canada’s productivity is slipping badly relative to its peers; major contributing factors are both the funding and structure of our education system. Even the process of deciding how much to spend on education needs examination. Now, especially with respect to secondary education we tend to spend as much as the political process willing to allot. What is missing in the direction of government funding toward secondary education is a focus on the value of an education. Presently government treats the value of education as an abstraction, this attitude stems from both business and governments discomfort or lack of practice assigning value to human capital. Only once you have valued a given set of skills or the potential value of certain types of education, can you rationally assign funds to their development in the population.

Presently, university student funding, for example, is only partially provided by government and often leaves students burdened by substantive debt. The benefits to society of education are readily quantifiable. We know that the average wage earner generates about $10,000 net to the government each year, where a doctor generates perhaps $100,000 net to the government each year; the relative value of the doctor is clear in terms of government revenue. If the government gives a student $500,000 to educate them self as a doctor, the government will enjoy a net benefit of $1.75 million, assuming a 25 year average working life. This concept is extremely simple, yet it is rarely posited effectively. It is rare that a quantifiable benefit can be expressed in the context of government expenditure. Free education is beneficial and plausible providing that the entities delivering it have their actions rationalised by real demand for knowledge and that demand comes from the "market", as opposed to institutional perception, which is often dulled by institutional interest. 

The key is to provide funding directly to the STUDENT or parents of STUDENTS and let perceptions of market opportunity direct enrolment a then let institutions respond to student demand. The funds for education are now directed via a bureaucratic process.  The result of the present system is often an imbalance between supply of skills relative to demand, or the persistent development of skill sets of waning requirement. Presently, funds for education are directed via the perceptions of institutional establishments, rather than by individuals responding to their environment. Education institutions should derive funding from students (or their keepers), the students can receive funding from government, but funds need to channel through the student. This modality shifts educational institutional focus to the people they are seeking to serve and those people’s perception of their environments.

In British Columbia the government collects and spends roughly $8000 / year / student for primary and secondary education. One might contemplate; could one teacher and two assistants run a school of 50 children for $400,000. The lead teacher might rent a facility for $40,000 / year spend 60,000 on incidentals, pay them self $150,000 and two assistants each $75,000.  That seems a better circumstance than one teacher to 30 children, when the teacher is only making between $65,000 to $80,000 / year and the other $175,000 or so is being consumed by administration and buildings. You can pick the numbers, but given a chance, open access by the public to funding will facilitate creative innovation in service delivery that is completely absent now.

The strongest resistance to reform which extends choice to the parents as to who teaches their children and where their children are taught is from the teaching profession itself. This is an understandable circumstance, as this represents a change in the delivery of service, but surely a confident professionals would rather function with the freedom to create curriculum that both parents and children see as relevant. It seems very likely also that absent the extensive overhead of the present system, that professionals could direct a greater portion of the funding to human resources; this reality would attract high quality and independent minded people to the task of teaching our children and spawn hole new ways of addressing education. More lucrative and more autonomy, this sounds like a more attractive circumstance compared to what teachers are experiencing now.   

Our society has been possessed by an over exuberant exaltation of credentials. This credentialization of society has people giving exorbitant attention to credentials and less attention to result. Credentials only offer value when the knowledge they represent produce a measured improvement, relative to outcomes generated in their absence. There is a culture at play in our society that places the focus of educational processes on credentials rather than the outcomes generated by knowledge gained through education. This misdirected focus contorts education itself and it contorts the functioning of society at large. Emblematic of the point are the circumstances in the education system where individuals gain a raise in income by garnering a masters degree, the raise in pay comes absent any measurable improvement to the function they are providing – often times, given institutional constraints, the knowledge they process through lower level education and experience is un-accessed and further education only makes the spectre more glaring. 

This distortion of the valuing of credentials by education systems and society at large, bestows an inordinate influence by individual educational intuitions over the qualifying of people. Observation indicates that this reality emerges from the tradition of the granting of credentials by individual institutions. The criteria for completion of a school segment or degree should be universal; an independent body needs to assess the viability of education through testing and other submissions. This removes from any given institution the ability to grant credentials and places them in a position to educate their students to satisfy a broadly accepted set of criteria. This structural innovation would allow any entity to transmit knowledge by any means at any rate, as long as the required objective is met (granted this is most applicable to more generalized forms of education). This type of action has a liberating effect and facilitates a multitude of creative knowledge delivery methods. In this atmosphere, much education could be done by students at little cost by accessing creative delivery systems, like government generated course materials via a central website. This would free institutions, from the task of conveying rudimentary materials and facilitate the redirection of resources to areas requiring more intensive study.       

What then maybe the course of action that would allow for a safe and orderly transition from a single dominate public education system to a segmented government funded system. Clearly, the first step is providing the funding to parents and or students who are then able to direct the funds to the educational facility that best represents the values and priorities of the parents and students. The present circumstance effectively precludes the free choice of parents and as such is an intrusion on their most fundamental right, which is to direct the upbringing of their children.

Present legislation throws up a large barrier to the creation of schools other than the present government offering. This dynamic generates a circumstance where, the wealthy can have choice but the middle class and poor have none. In an effort to enforce equality, the present policies have only exacerbated the barriers to potentially better opportunities for the population as whole.  This discussion often descends into a jurisdictional comparison where defenders of the present status quo are pointing out our system does better than another regions. While relative institutional performance is germane, this point is muted by the imperative to extend real choice to parents and students by empowering them through their immediate control of the direction of funding. 

Conclusion

It is my sincere hope that this discussion will spur contemplation around the subject of education reform and help to garner the attention it merits. Extending liberty of choice is a most critical element of effective governance. I find the merger of free choice and a varied well financed public education system most exciting. The culmination of new technology and the will and means for people to use it, promises a tempo of educational development and enlightenment unparalleled in history. We need only remove arcane and archaic impediments to liberate the intellectual capacity that now lays latent.   


“Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” Lenin


Personal Experience – Refection on Natural Education Systems

My life began on a farm in the Frazer Valley of British Columbia. The farm was a natural education system. My father died when I was almost five, and until that time I remember following him around watching what he did all day. A special treat would managing to get up while he was milking the cows in the morning, walking it the dairy’s moist warm environment with the milking machines rhythmically doing their business. Pleased for the company, he would pour tea in a cup, plop in sugar cubes and reach for a co-operative cow’s udder and milk in a generous amount of “whitener” – sweet tea and your father’s company, what more could a child ask for. The morning would progress and the milking would be done, equipment cleaned, cattle turned out to pasture at the dog’s behest. With very few words said and a gesture to indicate it was time to head for the house and breakfast, absent an institution or official curriculum, there were many lessons learned. The gentle and painless transfer of knowledge from one generation to another, knowledge transferred through action and example. The amount and breadth of knowledge shared in that couple hours could hardly find expression on a thousand pages, the most memorable and important though, was a nurturing father’s affection and the genuine sense of his gladness for my company. There were only a few more mornings like that one before he was taken from us,  had he stayed, I am sure his wisdom would have directed me through the environment I would encounter a couple years later, when I walked through the doors of my first institution, a stark white elementary school.

After my father died, my mother naturally had her hands full, with five children and a farm to run. As you might imagine I was free to pursue life, out the door in the morning busying myself around the farm and being exposed to real actions of purpose. My mother would effect some direction over me, but for the most part I was effectively unsupervised, expect for cursory direction from an older sibling or busy hired hand. Exploring the bottom 40, driving the tractor up and down the drive and generally playing in the most independent and serious way. Without a teacher present many lessons were learned, the most important of which was how to create, entertain and be productive for myself, absent adults.

It was from this environment that my mother sent me to school. I remember my first day, my mother dropped me off, I walked up the stairs into the cloak room and the smell of a school remains to this day. The teacher greeted me there, showed me were to put my lunch, made me take my coat off (which I wanted wear) and stuck me in a row of desks with other children. I hadn’t been there five minutes and she had bruised my sense of self determination. She had applied a number of unnecessary constraints and had failed to consult me on a single one.  I got through the first day of school and it was about a two mile walk home to the farm; through the course of the walk, the events of the day began to anger me and when I arrived home I expressed in the clearest terms possible that I was never going back, and so began many tortuous years of trying to find reason, kindness, understanding and learning in the coolest of human creations, the institution.

There is an absence of personalized care in institutions that leaves wanting the real meaning in life’s daily experience; institutions are a poor substitute, if they are at all, for natural education systems. It was my intent through inclusion of these early experiences to demonstrate the robustness of family and non-institutional learning, even in the face of adversity, and the inherent frailty in the institutionalized setting. Small nimble organizations are able to adjust to varying demands, large monoliths are unable to.     

This is the basis of much of my life’s experience and the basis of my thinking around the monolith that has evolved called our public education system. It’s a critical eye to say the least because the institution designed for the ordinary fails the extraordinary. The institution I was exposed to, stole my voice, marginalised me even though I am an eager learner, because that is what large monolithic institutions do, they are inherently antagonistic to the individual and pro conformist – they have to be to function. Yet in our world it’s the Winston Churchills, Albert Einsteins, and Benjamin Franklins that make the difference – all great people who had a contrarian inclination spurred by overbearing institutional establishments.
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