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Thursday, 16 April 2009

Why our school system needs hacking

(Note: I wrote this post not in a vacuum. My wife is a teacher. 5 of my school mates are as well. My current colleague is an ex teacher. I also dealt with schools as part of our Future School programmes.)

Many many teachers I have talked to have spoken to me about this: our school system sucks. It has evolved into a model where branding and public relations with parents has become more important than teaching. This has sucked money, school resources and attention away from students and towards activities that made the schools look good (winning awards, getting press releases etc). All these has resulted in teachers spending more time on administrative efforts, rather than innovating on how to teach more effectively.

In a teaching focus school, the structure is such that teaching load is heavier than administration duties. Teachers spend more time in innovative course development and online learning. They interact more with students to find out about their learning styles and how to teach more effectively.

Does the above sound familiar to you? It probably don't because that is not how our schools are run.

In reality, teachers spend more time doing a lot of non-teaching related stuff. To make matters worse, they are REWARDED based on that. Did the basketball team you are in charge of win awards? Did our science project got featured in the news? How many committees are you in charge of?

In a time where our education needs reinvention, is the above what our teachers should be focusing on?

Having said that, not all schools behave in this way. There are certainly good schools and teachers that emphasize on a child's learning. The problem is we don't have a way to tell them apart. That is where startups can come in.

- How can you make the resource allocation within schools transparent? Why can outsiders tell whether the school in investing more in students' learning rather than their own marketing. I heard that at some local zone area, special budgets are allocated based on how famous or well known the schools are, which creates more incentives for schools to play the marketing game.
We need more transparency.

- Can you create a GetSatisfaction equivalent for schools?
GetSatisfaction flipped customer-service on its head by allowing employees to have a voice and help customers solve problems, but also allow customers to solve problems too. In a same manner, can we give voices to the public and help them solve problems with schools?

-RateMyTeachers.sg, the Singapore version anyone?

- Can we create a platform for teachers to break out of the school model and create a virtual one on their own? A wordpress or a topspinmedia equivalent for teachers who are passionate to teach and make a differene to a student's life?

I am sure there are more creative ways you can think of to hack our school system. Let's hear them!