Schools Out ii

Schools without teacher

A blog to explore the future of

UK Education.

  • Why Blended Learning?

    By Ikenna Mirembe

    October 5, 2020

    Blended Learning

    What type of pedagogy will be suitable for students as they return to school across the country? Let's explore this idea of blended learning, not a new concept. However, the technological advancements in the last 50 years improved such pedagogy. Are their barriers stopping schools from delivering such pedagogy, and should it be integrated formally into the UK Education system with a transparent standardised process?

    The two main areas to be explored are synchronous and asynchronous class session. Does blended learning affect the teacher-student relationship, with more ownership of learning transferred to the students, and less of the teachers standing in front of the classroom as a symbolic figure of knowledge? This wasn't how the system was planning to start the 2021 academic year, but a lot of rapid changes are happing. Now will be an excellent time to explore what it means to be a teacher and how are teachers responding to the idea of blended learning.

    Suppose we explored the idea of teachers as learner. What should the UK Education system be doing to make sure that teachers are supported in delivering a meaningful blended learning experience to the students? Are there best practice around the world in other education systems that can be copied and embedded into the UK Education system in support of enriching the teacher's experience?

    The first barrier to overcome with Blende Learning is the infrastructure for all the stakeholder from teachers to students. Teachers and students need access to reliable internet for uninterrupted access to engage and participate with web-based content. Without a national standard rolled out across the UK by the Department for Education, teachers will be improvising, which might lead to lousy experience due to the initial workload required to create engaging online and offline content that are complementary. There is a pressure to master new skills, and their technological competency will be tested but not much for students who are generally more tech-savvy than teachers.

    Funding for Blended Learning will attract a lot of attention during this period, as the school system believes more funding is the answer to the lack of quality education and Blended Learning will be no exception to that rule. Purchasing new tech and training teachers to be more competent will need more funding.

    The digital age brings a lot of new problem spaces, and this might hinder the Blended Learning initiative. Factors such as Data Privacy, Ethics or the Digital divide are all crucial areas that need addressing before implementing any national standard for blended learning. Until these topics are dealt with transparently and fairly, some teachers will be reserved on adopting this new pedagogy to the full extent.

    Blended Learning provides the opportunity for teachers and students to co-design their learning experience. Currently, teachers follow the national curriculum as a guideline, planning a general lesson that is dynamic to keep a class of 30+ all engaged. What happens when you open this process and allows students to co-design their learning experience with problems they encounter in the real world, this heighten their curiosity, presenting the opportunity to learn through discovery.

    There are lots of web-based platforms that facilitate such collaborations. Google Classroom is one of them, a platform that looks to streamline some of the task associated with teaching, such as creating, distributing, and grading assignments. Additionally, there is an array of apps that utilise visual learning and gamification from their Play store to keep students engaged with their learning and provides them with instant feedback.

    The teacher's role has expanded beyond just teaching in the last 30 years. Parenting has now been placed in the hands of teachers. Majority of parents look to teachers to help instils disciple in their children, and sometimes this is almost an impossible task. Blended Learning encourages autonomy and discipline, with assistance from technology students will be able to gain Softskills as they progress through their education. As learning becomes more personalised teachers will be of better assistance to "poor" and "at-risk" students.

    While there is a lot of positives that are associated with Blended learning, it is vital first to establish what skills the workplace needs so students can gain the necessary employable skills from their education journey. The shift towards Web-based education is imminent, as we are now in the "knowledge Age" where collaboration is essential to stop the duplication of knowledge. Teachers, educators and policymakers should focus on building a system that facilities mastery and exposure to the latest information on any topic, where students can learn to deep dive, feed their curiosity and contribute to the development of new knowledge due to their diverse thinking, background and perspectives, which are not currently captured by the education system and can be of great advantage to businesses and the economy.

    The Teachers role will shift towards focusing on Softskills, as the Hardskills students needs will be automated through Artificial Learning Assistance that has a better understanding of the individual learner.

    But at the moment until there's a national system put in place teachers will be faced with the challenge of content creation, judged on the ability to develop an engaging Blended Learning experience due to the current panic caused by the pandemic. A solution will be for teachers to collaborate across faculty and subjects, which is something that rarely happens in the education system.

  • Algorithms will know you better than your Teacher?

    By Ikenna Mirembe

    September 28, 2020


    Earlier August, we saw a glimpse into the future of Education, due to the current pandemic that has disrupted systems around the world. The education system wasn't exempt. Income Ofqual exam algorithm, which started as a solution to the current problem of students not being able to sit their exam turned into a protest. From one of the student's protestor placard "Your algorithm doesn't know me."
    I this particular instance the Algorithm might have received negative press due to the circumstances surrounding the situation, but algorithms are only as good as the dataset used during training. What datasets are needed to produce a more accurate model for students grades?

    Ofqual might have open this pandora box too early. Nevertheless, the UK Education system needs to adjust to this new reality, rote learning, standardised test and the latest addition exam results algorithm, can all be used in the same sentence. There hasn't been significant innovation in Education, but algorithms are here to change that. For one, unconscious bias has plagued the education system far too long, decolonising the curricular is a good initiative. Besides, it's more of plaster than a treatment to the problem. What about the attainment gap?

    So to the student who thinks algorithms doesn't know her, it's a matter of time. Take a look at your timeline on any social media platforms.
    There would be a few drawbacks at the initial stage if the government chose to offload some of the administrative task associated with teaching to an algorithm. The education system doesn't currently have such an infrastructure in place.
    The issues associated with social class will be prevalent due to the affordability of the technology in more impoverished families. Students won't be able to engage with the online content that has been assigned to them.

    Inevitably students and parents will find a way to game the system, this can be seen with the Algorithm developed by Edgenuity Inc. They created an algorithm that helps teachers with assessments grading, but some student found out that they can increase their score by inputting keywords in their assessment. Also, some students might get other people's input.

    We need to think about each stakeholder in this new scenario of Algorithm led learning environment, students are being asked to change how they learn abruptly. In this new type of learning attention is a precious commodity, and for disadvantaged families, this will be a difficult adjustment to make. Parent or guidance won't be able to assist their children anymore, due to lack of technical skills or familiarity with such systems and this will harm students who don't have the discipline to focus and finish the assigned tasks.

    Currently, the only measure of success is how well students perform in their final standardised assessments. However, a system where algorithms are assisting students with their learning, such a system will be able to capture more accurately progress made by each student over an academic year. With a built-in feedback loop, a holistic view of student academic year can be easily assessed by a tutor, highlighting any area that needs improvement, and adjustments can be made to their learning plan accordingly.

    Another area algorithms can improve, will be the issue surrounding students age and pace of learning. At this present stage, most schools in England grouped students based on their date of birth. A more robust system that evaluates each students ability will be able to recommend a more dynamic group that can help students with their learning, for example, grouping students into interests or aspirations. Such mixed groups of age have shown to help students socially.

    Above is a fraction of the problems that can be solved with an Artificial Learning Assistance (ALA). An example of a company using such Algorithm is "Santa for TOEIC", an AI-enabled mobile and web-based platform that assists its user in learning and preparing for the standardised English test. Users can increase by 165 points out of 990 points within the first 20 hours of studying.

    Teachers can only help students who they understand, and this relationship takes time to develop. In our current system every year, teachers have to get familiar with new students and keeping track of all their needs and ambitions is a tall task to ask anyone. Students now look at non-traditional ways to self-actualisation due to exposure to the internet. Schools don't generally have the provision to guide them down such paths, but instead, try to fit them into a preexisting category that the structure can offer, with advancements in technology, there's the capability to provided tailored learning to each student.

    There is a lot of ethical issues surrounding the datafication of Education. However, this shouldn't be a barrier to providing future students with the best opportunities toward achieving their dreams. One of the positive expectations on the collection of students data is that such information can be utilised to create a digital portfolio for each student to support their GCSE and A-Level results. All the data created during their school years can be digitised and stored, giving students more pride over work produced.

    We have various experts in different fields that need to be consulted when creating Artificial Learning Assistance (ALA). All the negative perceptions currently associated with such a system can be improved through design iteration and small live test projects.

  • SoftSkills are the future of UK Education

    By Ikenna Mirembe

    September 21, 2020


    Softskill is defined as personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. This has been shown by researchers to be one of the major catalysts to succeeding in life.

    But why has the Work environment noticed a gap in individuals with high-level Hardskills but lack comparable Softskills? Additional training is very costly, with no identifiable improvements.

    There is a belief that Softskills are hard to teach and are innate skills one is born with. This delusion still exists in our modern Education system, which since it invention has focused on developing a rigorous method to measure Hardskills. The current pedagogy has worked over the years producing fantastic individual along the way, including myself and most of us reading this.
    However, the age of automation is here. UK Education system requires redesigning to provide future generation all the necessary tools for entrepreneurial success and innovation.

    Softskills are rooted in Emotional intelligence (EQ), and up until now, we have been focusing on Intelligence quotient (IQ). Still, the future of UK Education will need to build around EQ competencies. Daniel Goleman's 1995 book 'Emotional Intelligence' defines EQ as "the ability to identify, assess and control one's own emotions, the emotion of others and that of groups." That can be wrapped around five competencies. Self-awareness. Self-regulation, Internal motivation, Empathy and Social skills.

    In our current society, a good education can be seen as a vehicle to uplift students from poor economic background to become valued members of society. Current UK Education system focuses on the developments of cognitive skills; these core skills help one think, read, learn, remember, reason and pay attention. It is essential to develop each cognitive ability as a weakness in one can affect the ability to learn effectively.
    A common form of pedagogy used in the UK Education system is rote learning, UK Education system has been underperforming in comparison to East Asian Education systems, which are dominated by rote learning that focuses on knowledge retention. Some educator believes such pedagogy is essential to the future of UK Education, if it wants to compete on the world stage.

    If you take away the focus from cognitive skills development that the current UK education system provides through the emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. The students most likely to suffer will be students from deprived backgrounds, who's only hope to a better life is achieving a good grade in those subjects.
    Our current work environments view the Hardskills gained through education as factors that show competency.
    For students to have the opportunity to think deeply about a subject, they require a framework, and rote learning provides that framework.

    Suppose you think about the natural progression of life for a student. Beginning at nursery, placed into a system that keeps pushing you forward at a pace of age regardless of skill or readiness to progress.
    All of a sudden, you find yourself at a University lecture room, the system now expects you to figure things out for yourself, "Self" becomes synonymous to everything. The UK education system hasn't focused on the five EQ competencies listed earlier, but somehow it expects you to utilise these skills.

    The real test of EQ competencies is the workplace. Whenever you get thrown into an unfamiliar environment, the brains kick into survival mode. Having the right Softskills can help you cope with such changes quickly.

    An essential recommended reading will be "What Works May Hurt: Side Effects in Education. Book by Yong Zhao." Yong breaks down some of the best practice found in Education systems around the world today, instead of stopping there, he provides the side effects of such programs. He is asking the education community why do we still accept Education reforms that are only beneficial to some students learning. When compared to other fields such as medicine, if a big pharmaceutical was to release a drug, they are expected to label the side effects that are associated with taking this particular drug.

    The purpose of this blog is to focus on the future of the UK Education system. Looking at the current landscape, what changes need to occur for the system to help students regardless of their family background or social class, achieve their potential.
    The current system can be broken down into two distinct categories Softskills and Hardskills. Let's focus on the aspect of Hardskills, the current education system, through iteration over the last 200 years, have been able to refine the rote learning method. Technology has advanced to the stage where we capable of automating such pedagogy.

    In contrast to social media platforms, each new company that emerges is developing a new and robust algorithm to understand its users. TikTok is the latest company to create such an algorithm.

    The world around us today is extremely visual, with the screen time of the coming generation forecasted to increase, its time to take advantage of existing behaviours that have been created through the constant use of our mobile devices and provided tailored learning to students through these platforms. The education system can utilise such technology. Currently, one of the most meaningful areas in education that require innovation is personalised learning. With the current UK Education system focused on STEM subjects, algorithms to offload repetitive tasks allows teachers more time to focus on Softskills.

© 2020 Ikenaa

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