Teaching That Is Right Not Wrong

British teenagers have lower IQs than 30 years ago, reversing the ‘Flynn effect’, seeing scores rise in 20th century. Professor Flynn believes the drop is due to youth culture stagnating and dumbing down. Is a decline in speaking related? Children find face-to-face conversation ‘too much effort’, preferring to watch YouTube than meet friends or pursue hobbies, an Ofcom Report (2019) claims. Many learners lack the conversational moves to shift home dialogue into class monologue talk (Sage, 2010, 2017). The Basic Skills Agency (2002) reported 50% of children demonstrated significant communication problems. They enter school with limited experience of talk to hinder learning.

A MRC project investigated 300 children, with above average IQs, but failing in school (Sage, 2000). Narrative language was the problem. They could chat with friends outside class but could not assemble talk for meaning, or present ideas coherently in lessons. Employers say that workers cannot string words together – failing to process or give instructions and powerless to present clear ideas.  Excellent communicators exist, but ineffective interactions are rising in a world requiring smarter thinking for solving problems. People can be fluent in dialogue, where they have control, but when faced with monologue, show processing and assembling problems. This is rarely acknowledged.

Learners lacking connected speech do not have narrative thinking for secondary language literacy and numeracy. This absence constrains higher-level thinking and reflection, causing behaviour issues. Students would rather be thought ‘bad’ than ‘dim’ (Sage, 2007). Limited understanding of cause and effect underlies rising crimes amongst 5-15 year-olds. The individual danger is restricted personal and academic performances and to society limited social communication and cooperation, making the human dark-side prominent.

What should teachers encourage when intelligent machines are taking over routines? Students experience hands-on computer science and mathematics classes to make them job-ready. Machine learning, or Artificial Intelligence (AI), differs from giving a computer instructions in coded programmes. Instead, machines are fed algorithms and the large data and programmes themselves construct models to analyse quicker than humans.  Google Translate involved 500,000 lines of code but now uses only 500 in machine-learning languages. The challenge is to understand how computer models work mathematically, to be reviewed for life purposes.

Technical work is mathematical – linear algebra, calculus, probability and statistics and is a significant life ability. Algorithmic thinking, however, does not just come from computer coding with appropriate learning experiences via cooking, sewing, knitting, art, music and sport etc. – all involving algorithms. Computer programming encourages closed-world building with some loving the magic of assembly and playing in virtual space.  It is thought that attraction for virtual worlds has hindered understanding and development of how tools can function in life. By 1970, key technologies were in place: electricity, sanitation, high-ways, air-travel, telecommunications and internet connections, but the pace has slowed. The only notable development has been increases in computing power and mobile devices.

Robots could assist housework, teaching, medical and social care, as well as entertainment, but companies have closed. The only successful venture has been iRobot’s Roomba vacuum cleaner, operating since 2002. In 2007, the XPRIZE Foundation offered $30 million to commercial teams for landing a robot-rover on the moon. No-one met the deadline. They had difficulties financing contracts and finding relevant expertise. The one technology achievement is iPhones with dangers. Deep fake technology manipulates video and audio for promoting violence or defaming reputations. This shapes beliefs leading to caution. Self-driving and flying cars, augmented-reality glasses, gene therapy and nuclear fusion are still prototypes. Zero- and negative-emissions technology is urgent, but not only is finance needed but communication between experts to make developments possible. Employers bemoan the limited communicative powers of workers, with research showing that only 20% employ inner language for reflection (Hurlbert, 2011). Experts say we would rather die than think, when considering today’s bad decisions! People must be flexible to analyse chaotic, complex, open-systems. It is important to learn how to cook, sew, garden, climb trees and indulge in art, drama and music for developing imagination and invention.  Teachers should help students understand the intersection between arts and sciences and limit addictive, consuming, closed gaming worlds.

Focus is on narrow endeavours, but a generalist background leads to brilliant breakthroughs (Epstein, 2019). Learners must voice what interests them and pursue strengths. They should share knowledge for confidence and feedback. The internet presents perfection, but our complex, muddled world demonstrates different views, values, attitudes and customs. It is deceptive that the world and its people are all beautiful, perfectly put together and in constant harmony with one another.

OFSTED’s: Removing Barriers to Literacy, said ‘a common feature of the most successful schools is the attention they give to developing speaking and listening’ (p. 6, 2011).  Cuba’s education is enviable and seen as a communicative process – unless one understands how it develops and breaks down, effective teaching is impossible. We should give communication priority to improve standards. The Japanese put communication and relationships top of the learning agenda. Students teach, as sharing knowledge is the best way to learn. Teachers are ‘guides by sides’ not ‘sages on stages’.

Rosemary Sage

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