Thursday, October 19, 2006

Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, is proposing some radical changes in Education in the US:

I've advocated, for example, paying kids in the 7th through 12th grade the equivalent of what they would make working at McDonald's if they take math and science and get a B or better. Overnight you would change the culture of poor neighborhoods in America. We ought to be honest and say math and science are harder. They're extraordinarily valuable to the country as national security and economic matters. Cultures get what they pay for. We currently pay for rock stars, movie stars, and football and basketball players. Shouldn't being a child prodigy in math be at least as important as being a child prodigy in basketball? Also, I'd allow anyone with substantive knowledge to participate. If you're a retired Ph.D. in physics and you'd like to come in one hour a day to teach physics, I'd let you. No union dues. No credentialing. And I'd argue that if you let everyone in the country who knows physics teach physics, with no credentialing, you'd have a better outcome. Finally, there's no reason to believe that an 1820 school model has any relevance to the 21st century. It's terrific only if you think kids today are going to work in a textile mill. School should mimic reality, not defy it. Almost everyone you know who wants to learn either learns part-time or by immersing themselves for three to five days. They don't go and sit for one hour a day ad nauseam.
Discover, October 2006.

These few days and over the next couple of weeks, we staff are all stressed out worrying about our kids' performance in the end-of-year exams. We worry if they are motivated enough to study their materials, and if they really do value their learning enough to do their best in their tests. This annual hand-wringing ritual is a time-honoured tradition, but that's probably what Gingrich is suggesting putting an end to.

The school Gingrich envisions turns secondary school students into state employees, being paid to study. Their main subjects are math and science and they don't sit in school all day for a year. Instead, they have a much reduced time table, are paid for their time on condition of their maintaining good results, and by "part-time" I guess he means that for the rest of the day the kids are actually off-campus applying themselves in the real-world on some corporate attachment or apprenticeship programme.

This idea pretty much opens up Education to market forces. It's practical and pragmatic. It's so crazy out-of-the-box it just might work to raise the level of competency in not only math and science but also in entrepreneurial and corporate survival skills.

It also means the end of a centrally controlled education system, but let's be realistic: it's the free market, not the bureaucracy that rules the 21st century.

So far, the ideas look good on paper. Wonder what it would be like to actually live under this new system though?

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