Monday, August 08, 2011

Can education be automated?

One of the greatest inventions ever is the assembly line.  Adam Smith explained how breaking down the steps of a creating a needle among several works could dramatically increase the production of needles.  Henry Ford drove down the cost of manufacturing automobiles with the assembly line.  It allowed average Americans the ability to own a car.

For the last 150 years the education world has tried to turn children into widgets and run them through an assembly line.  In a class of twenty the teacher tries to keep all the children moving along the same line learning the same thing at the same time.

Today during lunch I was talking with a friend.  He had spent some time at a startup company which was trying to use technology to education children.  The company had really struggled and they were never able to come up with an effective solution.

Clearly there are areas in education which technology can assist.  Using a company for drill or displaying video can work well.  But the higher level job of deciding when a child should go on, redo the material, or even take a break may be a task that is only done well by a human.  A good teacher can recognize what fundamental mistake the child has made in his assumptions.

Often in public school when a child has to stay home for weeks or months the school will arrange for a tutor to come by, normally for just a couple hours a week.  While we talked during lunch today it occurred to me that maybe rather than having twenty children sit eight hours a day in a classroom, it might be more effective to have the teach spend two hours from 8 to 10 on Mondays with one child, and then two hours from 10 to 12 with another child, and work through all the children each week.   This is would be a much more effective use of the time of the students. 

And this is exactly what homeschoolers do.  The students are not treated like widgets.  They get personalized attention. 

Assembly lines are wonderful for producing an object again and again.  But children are not objects.  And I wonder if good education can ever be automated or turned into an assembly line.  And while we wait I am glad we can homeschool.


Beth said...

As a former classroom teacher turned homeschool mom, I totally agree with the potential successfulness of the individualized meetings model. Unfortunately, I don't think this would ever fly since too many people rely on schools as free childcare.

Henry Cate said...

Your comment reminds me of an exchange from the Adams Family:

The truant officer cries "But everybody sends their kids to school!"
"Ridiculous!" says Gomez. "Why have kids if you're just going to get rid of them?"

Anonymous said...

Your post reminds me of the Pink Floyd song Another Brick In The Wall


Henry Cate said...

Thank you. I had not seen the that Pink Floyd video before.