Beyond a ‘Just-in-time’ education system

We need an ‘anti-fragile’ approach, not one built on short termism

History Teacher

We are more aware than ever of our fragile supply chains. Relying on last-minute imports and keeping reserves to a minimum now looks like a gamble, rather than efficient. This system, which underpins how supermarkets are stocked and cars are manufactured, is known as ‘just-in-time’. The global shortage of PPE, in particular, is viscerally demonstrating how wrong this system can go. 

Others are applying the ‘just-in-time’ metaphor outside supply chains. An FT editorial recently noted that companies’ ‘just-in-time’ approach to their employees must change post-crisis to a ‘just-in-case’ that avoids precarious work and builds resilience to future shocks.

Short termism

Has short-termism in our education system also left us more vulnerable to our present shock? 

A narrow focus on exams is the clearest example of where it has. A few years ago I went to a teaching conference where I was told to select twenty Year 11 students on the C3/D1 borderline and offer intensive intervention. All you needed to do was repeat the intervention cycle with more and more sets of borderline students until most of them were on a solid C. This would increase headline A*-C statistics by double digits. 

Progress 8 and ALPs has made the problem of triaging less severe. However, the endless interventions for Year 11s, 13s and even Year 6s, is just one example of the chronic short-termism of our education system.

Intrinsic motivation

That culture has made students and teachers less prepared for the coronavirus shock. If school is mainly about the short-term goal of succeeding in exams, then why would a Year 11 or year 13 bother learning when their exams are called off? It seems that without the extrinsic measures we use in schools, such as using exams as a key motivator, a huge amount more learning is being lost at home than otherwise would be. Are students able to self-regulate their own learning enough to carry on with less supervision? Have they carefully built up enough intrinsic motivation that they continue learning outside of school regardless?

An anti-fragile education system

It seems clear that a more resilient system would have prevented at least some of the lost learning time. But developing an ‘anti-fragile’ education system is clearly not a simple task. Antifragile systems are ones which are strengthened, not weakened, by shocks. Is it possible to cultivate an antifragile education system? 

It would require looking beyond quick fixes and the structures which force a trade-off between meaningful education and gaming the exam system. This pandemic could act as a CT scan for the ways we are learning in schools, and could prompt us to ‘build better’ in future. Perhaps by building more resilient learners the estimated $10 trillion lost in earnings to school children around the world could be partly made up. 

In my own teaching this means more deliberately fostering intrinsic motivation as central to learning. It is always tempting to leave the development of metacognition for the next lesson, or the next term. After this crisis it will be more difficult to put off.

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