Sunday, January 20, 2008

Question about education

One of the things that frustrate economists is that people (pundits included) constantly act like there is a fixed amount of money to be made (or just "stuff") and then fight over how it all gets distributed. But there isn't a fixed amount of stuff, wealth is created as well as distributed.

Now, I'm a little sceptical of how effective education is at actually teaching us stuff. We might learn a bit, but it's often a pretty pathetic return on 12 years of being forced to sit, bored stiff, in a classroom 9 months of the year. I think it's mostly to do with signalling. "Society" is interested in sorting the smart and conscientious from the rest. I'd guess that our system is better at doing this than real teaching but if this is true I have two questions:

  • Isn't there a quicker, more painless way of doing this?
  • Aren't we engaged in a zero sum model of education where we're effectively allotting good careers? And is it really doing any good to become a good teacher in this kind of system?

If 2) is true you can understand why people whine about private schools and top ups to vouchers.

I'll write another post on this, but I wanted to see if I could poke any reactions out of you.


trev said...

We are still stuck in a very old way of schooling...

Maybe this `outcomes based' stuff helps... For the majority, a practical schooling would probably be best.

But I still think `rounding' subjects that inspire thought and creativity are essential.

Perhaps offering more `short courses', once-off seminars etc. would be a way forward... or promoting self-study (with support).

I think technology when it feeds through will have a massive impact and teachers as didactic tellers of truth will become obsolete, and teachers who teach how to learn and challenge will be at a premium.

But hopefully there is continual improvement.

Stuart said...

my concern is that currently a "good" education. one that benefits kids the most, is one that is zero sum. kids benefit by being ranked higher than some other kid (thus hurting that kid).

we cant get round the ranking thing, but we could, possibly, teach kids to be actually more productive.

could you explain a bit about the 'rounding' subjects? I'm very in favor of school being more fun and 'enriching'. i am not in favor of teaching kids shakespear.

trev said...

favor... you bloody american sellout.

Shakespear is wicked... I even think the bible should be looked at as a literary work. But Literature is only enriching for those who want to be enriched by it. Few English works give that opportunity better than Will, but it is not for everyone... voluntary short course may be the way. Forced reading is pointless...

Forced schooling is pointless.

How much difference does the ranking make? Perhaps for university?

But is university going to become more obsolete with info so readily available?

mutt said...

"How much difference does the ranking make?"

It makes a BIG difference. I actually think that university is about sorting too, which is why universities are not going anywhere. we dont want knowledge, we want to be graded by the right people.

I don't agree with you about shakespeare. There are better books to use as set works.

"favor... you bloody american sellout."

piss off

trev said...

"piss off"

No, you piss off

"There are better books to use as set works."

Why cut it out? Not convinced there are many with the same layers, just like there aren't many books like Tolkien. You can't deny the works quality... perhaps studying so many of his works gives excess favour and a better balance is possible.

" I actually think that university is about sorting too, which is why universities are not going anywhere."

Wouldn't it be cheaper to have people apply, and have a really strict entrance criteria? Or a `university' that does the sorting job in 2/3 weeks.... The guys who did well in 1st year did well later. The guys who messed around wouldn't if it was only 3 weeks.

mutt said...

Shakespear is good, but so are Joyce, Pyncon and James. I wouldn't set them either.

You've gotta make it long to weed out the slackers. Thats what employers want to find out. But there's an arms race on. A couple of years should do, but in the US people are increasingly expected to push on for post grad. Diminishing returns have set in.

trev said...

You've never really been a `nouveau' chap...

slackers will weed themselves out on the job...

Stuart said...

If employers were willing to go that route then great, but they're not. I think that would be a great way of solving the problem (I think some employers, like google, might do this).

Normally offering someone a nice job is a pretty big investement and often quite difficult to reverse (less so in the US I guess, but I'm not sure how much).

"You've never really been a `nouveau' chap..."

you mean the movies? I'm not sure I follow.

trev said...

Well yea, the movies...

Maybe I am wrong. Probably...but if you were offered short courses, would you normally choose stuff done in the last 100 years over before?

Stuff should in theory improve with time, but I do think there is value in some of the old stuff.

But, I do agree that maybe the Shakespeare is overdone (for some people)

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