Education, what is best for the next generation? Parents have one opinion. The tabloids have another. Ruling and opposition  politicians battle it out to decide what to do, yet very little of our educational policy seems to be guided by what science knows about learning.

As a psychology student I learned a lot about the science of education, or better put, the scholarship of learning. It’s still a topic I am interested in, so I’ve brought together all the principles that I subscribe to on this page.

Answering why?

First of all, you’ve got to be able to answer to a kid why he/she should bother with education with an answer better than ‘so you can get a job when you’re older’. When you think about young people, whose parents have been on long term unemployment, who have been let down by an economy more concerned about profitability than equal opportunity, you may begin to realise that training them for that world does little to inspire them.

Consider this quote from Barack Obama:

“Just think about what a real education for these children would involve. It would start by giving a child an understanding of himself, his world, his culture, his community. That’s what makes a child hungry to learn—the promise of being part of something, of mastering his environment. But for the black child, everything’s turned upside down. From day one, what’s he learning about? Someone else’s history. Someone else’s culture. Not only that, this culture he’s supposed to learn is the same culture that’s systematically rejected him, denied his humanity.”

Barack Obama, Dreams From My Father, Chapter 13

You can substitute black in this quote for all groups of society who have been let down.

Gove vs. Willingham

In 2012, Michael Gove, then the secretary of state for education in Great Britain, gave a speech setting out the reform he perceived education needed. Gove told us that he had been reading up on cognitive psychology, particularly the work of Dan Willingham, and that it said our schools need lots and lots of tests.

The article below is a good read if you want to understand the science behind testing, and the way Gove has misinterpreted it. It explains how testing is a useful classroom tool to help students measure their own progress and direct their learning. It does not necessarily advocate the strenuous end of year final exams which only measure ability to memorize.

Dweck and Motivation

Ken Robinson and Donnald Clarke

Bjork and Caution over Student Voice

Robert Bjork, of UCLA, has conducted some excellent research on the benefits of introducing difficulties into the classroom. One argument that has always stood out to me is how feedback systems often misguide educators into introducing the wrong interventions.

A paper Bjork published in 1994 describes this point (see heading ‘Misperceptions of the Trainer’). If the success of the teacher is measured only by immediate test results and constructs of student satisfaction, the means to improve those types of feedback are far different to those that might be guided by science. The reality is that the measures which matter are seldom recorded. There’s a risk here then that over reliance on short term measures makes for positive feedback but poorer teaching.

I wrote an article on this for a university assignment and I got an ‘A’.