In school and college education, educators are always mulling over how to instruct learners effectively. I have given this title as an essential question toward educators, and many scholars have discussed it. As I train teachers in this university, I would like to focus on this question by going back to the basics.
It would be my pleasure if there were any areas that readers could resonate over the discussion below.
In present-day schools and classrooms, a lot of students are not happy about not being able to understand the lectures, and have difficulty with interpersonal skills. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan discussed how to respond to these problems, and included them in the policies and measures in the new School Curriculum Guideline, which is proceeding to the final revision stage.
Society has been demanding the development of good teachers, and various measures have been implemented for reforming the teacher development system, but on-site measures in school are hardly realized. The voices of on-site workers in school do not reach the Central Council for Education or Education Rebuilding Execution Council, and so measures are determined and put into practice while the recognition of situations and the awareness of problems vary between administrative officials and school staff. This sloppy process blurs the countenances of teachers.
Japanese schools have been ridden with the customs of top-down communication, being passive, dependent, and just waiting for orders, and teachers educate children merely by forwarding educational contents from others to children without having second thoughts.
The question “Are educators those who teach with pre-etablished knowledge?” was excerpted from Experience and Education of John Dewey (1859-1952). This question is a representative conflict among various ones that have been nagging educators in the long history of education. I, too, asked this question to myself and dithered, when educating pupils in school, teachers in a board of education, and students in college at various positions.
As practical constraints, there is the School Curriculum Guideline, which is obviously based on pre-established knowledge, and the demand for the compatibility with the system for passing entrance exams. Most students of our university have learned pre-established knowledge, which can be called knowledge for passing entrance exams, in their elementary, middle, and high school days, and I always feel that it is hard to break down the entrenched learning.
The new School Curriculum Guideline, which is currently under discussion, is aimed at breaking out of the entrenched knowledge and focusing instead on knowledge for utilization and pursuit as well as on Active Learning. It also emphasizes the principles for educational courses from now on—educational courses open to society as a new policy. Dewey had already considered that the role of education is to brush up social intelligence for working properly in a democratic society. He suggested that educators should be responsible for preparing teaching materials so that children can select appropriate activities in their social organizations and conducting inquisitive education that is useful in society. Contrary to the dominant expectation that Dewey is child-centric, he put importance on the educators’ role of not merely counting on children’s initiative and interests, but also navigating their experience properly.
Here, let me mention traditional education and progressive education, which are both essential in education.
Traditional education is about promoting the growth of learners by offering knowledge of customs and existing materials from the outside, which strongly depends on subjects or cultural heritages. From a critical viewpoint, this education is composed of mainly cramming, but it is indispensable to put together and systematize various facts and theories, which are the base of knowledge.
On the other hand, progressive education means education that prioritizes the inner impulses and interests of learners over the knowledge of existing traditions and institutionalized customs, and chooses social issues flexibly. From a critical viewpoint, this education is mostly a hit-or-miss, but this is aimed at finding and utilizing valuable teaching materials in the experiences of children, rather than just following systematized knowledge.
In general, students deepen their experience and understanding by alternately experiencing and learning. The experience-based learning defined by Dewey progresses as follows, in the case of a school excursion: Students learn knowledge in school in advance (readiness) → They test the knowledge during the excursion (fieldwork) → They output the knowledge in group presentations (presentations and discussions). This is experience-based learning (problem-solving learning). Dewey also pointed out that it is impossible to separate the conflicting concepts: knowledge and practice.
Dewey recognized school as a place where students grow while reconstructing their experience, and insisted that cooperativeness and creative skills for finding and solving problems should be developed. The idea of learning through experience stresses the practical and social aspects of knowledge. Dewey put importance on the attitude of continuing learning, which is a non-cognitive ability, rather than a cognitive ability nurtured in coursework, as non-cognitive abilities are gaining importance. Teachers who keep learning, which is the keyword regarding teacher training of the Central Council for Education, is the image of teachers envisioned by Dewey.
The report of the Central Council for Education toward college in 2012, titled Qualitative shift of undergraduate education, highlighted active learning, and the new School Curriculum Guideline suggests that active learning should be put into practice in high school more frequently than junior high and elementary schools. Students who only had to learn pre-established knowledge, would interact with more people after graduation and gain experience in society where knowledge is exchanged more dynamically. Active learning is necessary for the transition from school learning to adult society.
In Japan, the voting age was lowered to 18 years old, and will be exercised from the election of the House of Councilors in the summer of this year. However, the education of voters in high school is under the state of confusion. Teachers want to instruct students to research and study with their freewheeling ideas, but political activities cannot be permitted, unless they obtain the approval of the management in their school, in accordance with Notification of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the Q & A. Teachers have no choice but to promote systematized learning. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology still has the conservative attitude toward education, to avoid contingencies, such as the high school conflict in the 1960s.
The democratic education envisioned by Dewey was aimed at promoting individuals to understand the characteristics of democracy from social and moral perspectives thoroughly rather than developing superficially good electorates with systematized knowledge.
There are two methods for education, or “handling knowledge”. One is to relay the knowledge and technology accumulated by others to students without doubting them. The other is to teach the contents you have produced at your discretion, that is, to convey the knowledge, theories, and skills you have formulated proactively to learners. The former tends to lack a proactive attitude, but does not impose responsibility. For the latter, teachers need to be careful not to be narrow-minded, but they can enjoy a sense of accomplishment. Education should not be biased toward one of them, but we need to flexibly choose them according to educational contents, the situations of educators and learners.
However, I would like to make a point here, that educators should aim to convey what they believe are important to students with confidence at their own discretion and become the origin of the cycle of passing down their knowledge. Needless to say, it is essential for educators to become researchers.
Intelligence contains sensitivity as well. My aim is to hone intelligence and acquire the ability to understand the situation in a moment.
Dewey mentioned, “Politicians, educators, and playwrights would know the true colors of human beings to the same degree as specialized psychologists,” but I doubt it in the present age. I think that educators, including myself, whose eyes for judging academic performance and children are now cloudy need to purify their eyes.