December 11, 2009

My view of British education (1)

I am having a discussion with a friend who are studying in US. Herewith some of the views I generated in the discussion:

I did my Master in Multimedia (e-Learning Technologies) with FCM, MMU. I was fortunate to learn from Dr Tengku Shahrom, an e-learning pioneer in Malaysia who obtained his PhD in 90s from University of Georgia. Through him, I was exposed to US learning models, instructional systems design models, etc. I also gained exposure to epistemology, behaviourism, cognitive theories, Bloom’s taxonomy and constructivist theories.

However, when I arrived in the UK, I was surprised that most of the British academics around me—including some European leading professors who are not aware of US learning models. In my views, they just don’t bother to know about those models. Some even see those models as “factory-like” or instant production lines that generate graduates. What I realise is that the fundamental British education aim to nurture “ladies and gentlemen”, instead of people who can get a job after graduation. Of course, a lot of universities here are adopting “factory-like” production of graduation. But these universities are basically newly formed institutions which were upgraded from technical colleges.

Another thing that I think unique in England (Scotland and Northern Ireland have different systems) is that teachers are people who possess at least a Bachelor degree plus a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). Without PGCE, one cannot teach in school. This is different to where I work in Malaysia—Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, where I am training school teachers at Bachelor degree levels. In other words, those who intend to a teacher must already be a practitioner or qualified to be a practitioner in the field of study, e.g. psychologist, mathematician, statistician, engineer, biologist. And normally, after a person graduated from a degree programme, he or she will be expected (not respected) to be a professional. When everybody is a professional, then there is nothing to wow about to be a psychologist or engineer. If one professional would like to become a teacher, then PGCE is the key to the world of teaching. Also, unlike Malaysia, secondary Maths teachers can only be secondary Maths teachers. Maths teachers are not allowed to teach other subjects, including primary Maths, even though they themselves or other may think or they can.

In PGCE programme, trainee teachers learn learning theories and practices which are tailored to their specific subject area. Therefore, a Geography teacher is not learning how Maths could be taught in schools, and vice versa. The advantage of this is that teachers, researchers and policy makers could play only their roles and execute their responsibilities well without bother other fields of study. Ideally, academics conduct research related to educational issues and disseminate findings in conferences, seminars, lectures, books and journals; policy-makers that fund the research make educational policies based on the findings; school teachers instruct according to strategies, syllabus or programmes structured under those policies, and the loop goes on and on. Ideally, if everything works as it should be, the quality of education will be forever improving. Of course this is oversimplified scenario, but in a nutshell, this is how it works.

Because of the above mentioned conditions, it is dangerous to jump to the conclusion and say “US is currently adapting and learning from European/ UK education models”. The following issues need to be explored in advance:
- Which model in which subject matter are you referring to?
- Which era are you referring to?
- Which level of education are you referring to?
- Which part of Europe are you talking about?
- Whose model are you referring to?
- Why do they refer to?
- How do the adaptation and learning happen?

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