Is it possible to do what many governments require: measure learning for groups of people? There are plenty of learning models out there on the web and in educators’ textbooks but, it seems to me, there’s often a world of difference between education and the world of Government targets. Somehow, the language of management creeps in. Learners and/or their teachers have to plan what is going to be learned, learn it and then prove they have learned it. Plan, do, review and, one hopes, tick another target off the list.
True, for as long as educational establishments worry about everything from the local town/area newspaper rankings to the August 2007 Shanghai Jiao Tong University Academic Ranking of World Universities, politicians, educators and users of education systems need methods of comparing one establishment with another. And worry, those educational establishments certainly do. A French friend recently declared that French university showings in the Shanghai rankings were abysmal, ‘un catastrophe même’, a matter of shame, and so the system of the Grandes Ecoles that has traditionally been seen to take the very best and leave the French universities with approximately the other 99 per cent would have to change. Yet all the ranking systems rely on measurements: measurements of attainment of predefined objectives, perhaps softened with some sort of ‘value-added’ measurement to allow for teaching quality that helps students starting from a low base achieve more than a straight-line progression would have predicted. (Does anyone know of a value-added system that gives similar credit for accelerating the development of those who arrive as high achievers?)
There is, of course, nothing wrong with planning some learning and following the plan-do-review cycle but where does that leave accidental and incidental learning? How does planning to learn something already known by someone else help develop creativity and inventiveness? Where reflective learning portfolios are used within universities, many a tutor has been faced with a student (or even a whole class of students) asking, “What do you want me to write in the reflective bit?” The tutor is then face with reigniting the flame of curiosity that all children possess but that has seemingly been extinguished as schooling progresses. There are no right answers when adding to knowledge rather than merely parroting it. Societies and nations do not develop by staying the same. Where, for example, would the world be if those who established the internet as a freely available commodity had decided to apply conventional business logic and legal practices? For as long as Ministries and professional bodies work with plan-do-review-tick, standards will be maintained and more may attain them: yet the world will be a poorer place if that also means that plan-do-review and ‘Ah-hah! What’s that?’ is unacceptable or unrecognised or ignored.