Education needs to become more democratic

Modern technology may finally bring about a democratic revolution in education. I was reading a discussion on ESL the other day on another website. Some teachers were talking about all the “interesting” things they had their students do. One teacher was asking students to read about the recent South Asian earth quake on the web. Then she had them design a toilet using only the kind of materials that would be available after an earthquake. This was a form of solidarity with the survivors of the earthquake, I would imagine. I guess she was teaching her students to reach out to these unfortunate people. I presume the resulting toilet would be “organic”.

However, what if her learners were not interested in the subject? What if they had no desire to get involved in a make-believe project to build a toilet? What if this was meaningless for them? Why not let them use English to learn about something that interests them? If the goal is to help them improve their English, then we need to make the language relevant to them, not to impose subjects and tasks at the will of the teacher.

Modern technology, the Internet, MP3 players, podcasting, etc. will eanble learners to decide what they want to learn about. Rather than listening to a teacher drone on in class, they will be able to choose to listen to something that really interests them. The challenge for the teachers is to make a variety of relevant and valuable content available. Of course it cannot just be anything. It needs to meet certain educational goals. But let us give people choices. Stimulate them. Do not treat them like mindless objects that can be force-fed whatever nonsense the teacher happens to think up.

I have been a little harsh perhaps. However, if I were asked to design a toilet as a means to improve my Korean I would not be very motivated. Power to the learner!

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