Advances in technology offer the potential to expand access to education, but will online learning ever replace the need for teachers? Students in the Wade Deacon High School Senior Debating Society in Widnes, Cheshire, consider both sides of the issue.
Education, education, education. We are a nation obsessed with our academia, our schools, libraries and universities. Yet all that is changing. A new type of schooling is taking over, and that is online learning. We are bombarded with technology everywhere we turn, and sure enough the 21st-century has trickled down into our educational institutions.
More and more establishments are signing up for Internet enlightenment, and its effects are felt beyond just the UK. All across the world, students from all walks of life are closing their exercise books and opening their laptops.
The ease of access that humans have nowadays to virtual outlets is astonishing — online learning platforms, free Internet services in public buildings and even the revolutionary educational ‘pods’ becoming popular in Asia and Central America — and so many different pupils will find it quicker and indeed simpler to access these online resources when they want. For some, it may even seem easier to log onto the nearest Wi-Fi than attend school day in and day out.
Opening up the amount of learning resources and research facilities students can access over the Internet has created new possibilities for those pursuing studies all over the globe. Granting students the freedom and flexibility to learn about the subjects that interest them is an inspiring way to get students to really follow in-depth studies on areas important to them, either to satisfy an academic interest or to give them the building blocks they need for the careers they want in the future.
Particularly in countries with easy access to technology, the use of computers, podcasts and webcams really allows these young adults to gain a passion for learning.
Of course, there are sceptics who raise common problems concerning behaviour and self-discipline to learn. Many worry that, left to their own devices, teenagers in particular will not have the desire to spend their own time following up their education.
Lots of schools that have embraced the transition to a more media-based programme still keep timetables, school days and the school building. They appoint a member of staff to watch the children to make sure they are still getting their work done. This is where we find the crux of the whole matter: what is the ‘teaching profession’?
If a person’s job is to simply stand in a room and mind rowdy teens, are they really a member of said profession? Teaching is more than child-minding students; teaching is about giving your pupils a love for your subject, getting them enthused about their education and mentoring them through the course of their school years. Do we seriously think, even with the new advances in virtual learning, that all this will just crumble into obsolescence?
As long as there is education, there will have to be teachers. Students cannot be given full responsibility for their own learning, or else we’ll end up with half the population practically illiterate by age twenty. Education needs routine and order and discipline, yes, but more importantly education needs to be twinned with motivation.
Can we really sit by and let this fade away? Can we really allow pupils to take into their own hands the power and responsibility of self-education?
Although some might say that virtual learning provides an easier way of teaching young people what they need to know to scrape the grades they need on their exams, the true heart and soul of the teaching profession will stay alive, at least for now, at least in this country.
The school's executive headteacher Pamela Wright OBE will take part in a live-streamed debate on ‘Future models of learning: will the teaching profession as we have known it become obsolete?’ at 18.15 BST on 4 June 2013.