Monday, January 21, 2013

Can Students Learn Without School?

Here's another guest post by Canadian teacher in London, Dusan Sekulic.  Enjoy...

Canadian teachers in London know what to do during a snowfall.

The Quest to Improve the Conveyance of Knowledge

Sitting in my classroom just after school, I am looking out the window and admiring the plethora of snow that had been descending on London since early morning. Not just any snow, rather, the United Kingdom's version of a snow storm. School had closed early today and I had just dismissed my overjoyed Year 8s barely past the stroke of noon. I could already see them hurling snow balls in the distance. Apparently there would even be snow on Monday, threatening more closures. Now most Canadian teachers here know, and I know, the kind of snow storms that cross London's skies are not exactly of the menacing kind, Canadiana style.

However, a second thought suddenly crossed my mind: What of their education? They were going to miss out on a whole afternoon of enriched and fruitful learning. Macbeth, poetry, the greenhouse effect, Churchill.. And what of Monday's classes? Hours wasted. How will our students learn outside of the classroom?

This train of thought eventually drifted to the question: Can students learn without the complex and traditional surroundings of a school? Or teachers?

I had only recently read a fascinating article by Chris Wilson, titled, "How to survive the teacher apocalypse". Although it refers specifically to ELT (English Language Teaching), I think it has great relevance in regards to teaching Primary and Secondary school subjects today. In it, he writes about a teacherless future with autonomous learning.

He asks the simple question: "If you had the option of learning on your own or learning with a teacher, which would you choose?" Seems like a simple enough question. Why, and even how, can someone possibly replace the face to face interaction of a living, breathing, thinking person filled with knowledge and experience, who is willing and able to teach a multitude of students all day. Technology cannot teach critical thinking, can it?

But then Chris makes a great point about the quality of teachers out there. He comments on the standards and drive, creativity and effort of a successful teacher who would survive this "coming apocalypse". There is certainly no room for "half hearted" teachers, dictating solely from a book. The teachers that will survive in the future are the ones who will go beyond the 'duties' thrust upon them. They give a reason why face to face, in person learning is still the best avenue to a proper education. Those teachers dispel the notion that cheaper, online education or any form of technological or alternative learning is better.

The main idea is that teaching is not just a job. There is no room for autopilot mode, corner cutting, subpar lessons and laziness. Chris speaks of conscious diligence and the continual need for teachers to improve ther lessons, their positive interactions with students and focus on professional development - because in the end, students need to have the desire to welcome that knowledge which educators bring them, and they shape and mold themselves, unlocking their true potential. Not to mention, we as teachers are also the ones learning and growing with each day and every semester.

Teaching is a learning process in itself that doesn't end with getting a job at a school, creating habits and routines and not challenging your students or yourself. Stagnation is terrible in this profession. Take pride in what you do, respect it, and make yourself and those around you better. As teachers, we have that responsibility at the very least.


  1. A big focus in my primary teacher training is recognising the importance of informal learning. That may not be what you're talking about, but my answer to your title is: Yes, of course. We're all learning, all the time, and children especially so.

    With regards to e-learning/self-tutoring, there's no question in my mind that good teaching is vastly more effective. Part of that is the opportunity for collaborative learning within the classroom. Children can accomplish so much more when they're problem solving together and learning from each other. Of course, if that kind of opportunity isn't on offer in the classroom then it makes no difference. So that takes us back to your point about the importance of quality.

    But even then, I know I'm the sort of person who benefits from set structure. I'm not very good at motivating myself to accomplish things on my own. For others like me, even a bad teacher would be preferable to no teacher at all.

  2. I completely agree with your point about collaborative learning. I have known really only a handful of people who really excelled individually with their studies through e-learning/self-tutoring in Secondary school. That naturally extended into University for them.

    For the most part, however, I think that problem solving together and learning from each other is paramount, for both teachers and students.

    I understand the need for set structure as well. I still benefit from it today many times. I do think it is needed in the curriculum, but balanced carefully with creative, innovative planning that is differentiated and stimulates critical thinking.

    That's one of the beauties of teaching, it always changes and adapts. One "set" structure evolves into another.

  3. Collaboration, be it in a F2F or online environment, is a skill that requires tremendous planing and preparation. Collaboration needs to be an integral element of a course; and as such it should be incorporated in a planned fashion within regular intervals.To be effective, collaboration needs to aim at 1) developing personal/individual meaning making and 2) creating spaces for the social construction of knowledge.


Thanks for sharing your two pence!


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