On Saturday evening I posted a tweet that has become one of the most shared and liked tweets I ever had. I wrote a blogpost in Dutch on the theme of the tweet, but I thought it was also a good idea to share some of my thinking behind this tweet in English.
First of all the tweet:
This mail wasn’t the first. The past few weeks, months even years I’ve met a lot of people who want to change education… from the outside. I want to give those people some advice. It’s not meant as satire or criticism, but if those people want to invest a lot of energy in education, I would like to suggest some stuff that can be rather effective.
So you saw some TED-video’s e.g. by Ken Robinson, that video by Prince EA, or you recently became parent yourself and you dislike what you experience in education? Suddenly you know: you want to change education?
You now can opt for the easy way. You can try to start a movement. You’ll need a nice website, maybe organize some evenings and you’ll have a vision on what has to change – and hopefully you’ll find some more people to share that vision.
What are the odds? It’s true: a singel person can change the world or education, e.g. Salman Khan with his Khan Academy or Tom Bennett and ResearchED. But wait, Salman didn’t really plan this and Tom is a keen defender of education and in both cases you can ask how big the impact really is. Do know: I really love them both. But the harsh truth is that most cases don’t really put a dein the daily practice of schools. Oh, you can reach a lot of people. Actually, teachers seem to love to be told how bad the system is in which they work. I think it’s because of this reason that Ken Robinson is so popular. But the change that there will be an effective change? I think that chance is slim and the chance for frustration after a while can be pretty big. For sure, it will need a lot of energy still I want to call this the easy way. Do you want to try this, be my guest. But I think there are better options.
Do what I tweeted: become a teacher yourself. There is a teacher shortage in a lot of countries throughout the world, for sure in the big cities and we can use every single great teacher. If you wonder what a difference a great teacher can make: imagine how many children you can reach if you teach for over 30 years. This group will maybe be smaller than the world you wanted to reach, but you have one big benefit: sometimes you will be able to see the real effect.
But maybe you know that you aren’t teacher-material. Or maybe you are earning a lot more money than you would earn as a teacher and you don’t want to give up your great job. Too bad, but no problem, not everyone is able to teach. There are many other options to make a difference. You can take part in one of the many projects were volunteers help children with their homework, especially children from families who have it more difficult in life. Again, the group of children you will reach will be smaller, but this approach is effective. Ok, but this maybe will still cost too much of your time and it is more difficult to plan in your already very busy schedule? I hope you do know that education takes a lot of time and effort. But in that case you can maybe ask a school how you can help them out? The effect will again maybe be a bit smaller and less visible, and it’s for sure not similar to you telling them what to do, but maybe you can still make a difference because you can do some stuff instead of the teachers so they can spent more time teaching the kids.
If you really have a lot of money to spent, you can try what Bill Gates did: put a lot of money in education so everybody should adapt to your own vision, but again there is only a small chance this will end up in a positive result, ask Bill himself. A better option is to put your money in more effective tutor programs who sadly also cost a lot money but they are one of the few effective approaches against inequality.
But what about your vision? I have to admit: in all my proposals you won’t change education as such, you will take part in the existing system you wanted to change. Well, I have another option left: start your own school. It happens more often than you think and if your school ends up successful, that will be the best P.R. for your vision. But please, do not make the same mistake that has happened on too many occasions: quite often these kind of schools – I’m not saying always – make inequality in society bigger.
This all may sound less spectacular – well, starting a school is something big – and it all will be more difficult than starting a movement, but ask yourself: do you really want to make a difference?