EDUCATION

Make classrooms innovation studios

In Summary

• Teachers or professors still stand at the front. Students sit in rows, each bent over their notebooks, laptop or tablet.

•  Think about the first car. Think about the first hospital operating room. Why has the classroom and schooling remained immutable, despite rapid advances in technology?

ECDE pupils learn seated on stones in a classroom at Katuwit Primary School in Tiaty subcounty, on January 19, 2017
ECDE pupils learn seated on stones in a classroom at Katuwit Primary School in Tiaty subcounty, on January 19, 2017
Image: JOSEPH KANGOGO

In what is an intensely technology-enabled age, learning spaces – classrooms, seminar rooms and lecture theatres – still persist in the spatial form that pre-dates technology.

Teachers or professors still stand at the front. Students sit in rows, each bent over their notebooks, laptop or tablet.

In the modern age, where technology is ubiquitous, the teacher or the professor is still the sage on the stage; the untrammelled authority of content. Students still have to toil through dry, uninspiring and sometimes unrelatable readings. Curriculum content still remains unbound to the lived experience of the learner or societal aspirations.

 

The teacher or professor is like a banker who makes deposits and will return at a later date to withdraw what they deposited. Hence, assessment is unimaginative and privileges lazy regurgitation of the undigested subject matter.

It is not surprising that students have devised creative ways of disposing of class notes once the professors or the Kenya National Examination Council have returned to make their withdrawal of the content.

Think about the first car. Think about the first hospital operating room. Why has the classroom and schooling remained immutable, despite rapid advances in technology?

Are we suggesting that the classroom and how we learn has stood the test of time? Are we suggesting that the old classroom form — students sitting in rows and professors and teachers pontificating from their hallowed spot at the front of the classroom — continues to deliver meaningful learning?

There is a plethora of evidence that schooling is producing very little learning. Studies have shown that more than 25 per cent of pupils completing Standard Eight cannot read at the grade-appropriate level.

Moreover, the majority of students who join university cannot write or read or speak the English language at the level expected of a college freshman.

Employers complain about half-baked graduates. Often the graduates lack the requisite knowledge, skills and attitudes.

For technical jobs, employers insist that the graduates need re-training. For the most part, the graduates have little practical or work-based experience to be immediately employable.

When you think about the classroom as space where knowledge is produced and not consumed, then the classroom becomes an innovation studio.

Our schools and universities must make students co-producers rather than passive, unthinking consumers of knowledge and facts. We must move to experiential pedagogies to help develop habits and attitudes of mind.

The ubiquity of technology — cellphones, tablets, laptops — leveraged by 4G and soon 5G internet connectivity is ideally suited to drive experiential pedagogies and make learning deep and meaningful. Imagine how immersive virtual reality trips can facilitate how students learn and understand ocean acidification and sea-level rise.

The question is not so much about curriculum as it is about how we design the learning experience.

We must reimagine the classroom as an innovation studio where teachers and students are engaged in co-production of knowledge through experimentation, failure and discovery.

 

Are we ready for the inevitable technological disruption of education? We must invest more on teachers and students, and tinker less with the curriculum.