Book Review: Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere

Sunday, December 2, 2012
by jsalvo

‘Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere’ by Will Richardson provides an excellent synopsis of how our school systems must transform to prepare students for the 21st century and beyond. 

In today’s world, information is readily available in abundance via tablets, cell phones and other portable electronic devices.   We have online communities consisting of millions of connected individuals in which any individual may fill the roles of both teacher and student.

Unfortunately, many schools still operate under the premise that access to information and teachers is scarce, emphasizing memorization of subject matter with canned multiple choice exams. 

The following quote from the book succinctly describes the challenge facing our educational systems at all levels: “we have to stop thinking of an education as something that is delivered to us and instead see it as something we create for ourselves”. 

Education shouldn’t be thought of as something that is delivered in a canned format at an assigned time, it is an ongoing process of personal exploration.

The following list included in the book documents the skills needed to compete successfully in the 21st century and beyond.  Unfortunately, the majority of school curriculums are failing to help students develop these skillsets.

21st Century Literacies (National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE))

  • develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  • design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  • manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
  • create, critique, analyze and evaluate multimedia texts
  • attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

The challenge isn’t to take the current educational curriculum and deliver it via digital formats, the challenge is to restructure the curriculum to address the skills listed in the 21st century literacies.  As stated in the book ‘the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write.  The illiterate will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn’.

The author provides some unlearning/relearning ideas for educators, that may help to bridge the gap.

  1. Share everything (or at least something): Share education best practices online via blogging, videos, pictures, etc. and leverage the knowledge that others are sharing online.
  2. Discover, don’t deliver, the curriculum: Instead of delivering the curriculum in a lecture format, discover the curriculum along with the students.  This includes moving away from telling students what, when and how to learn and giving them more ownership of the learning process.
  3. Talk to strangers: Help students connect to others online who can help them learn.   Seek out opportunities to connect students with the smartest people you can find.
  4. Be a master learner: As stated in the book, ‘In times of great change, learners will inherit the earth, while the learned will be beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.’  What is learned in school becomes quickly outdated,  what matters is that students have the skills to learn new things efficiently and can use the knowledge gained to solve important problems.
  5. Do real work for real audiences: Student work should have real value in the real world.  Some examples include creating a book, performing in a play, implementing a product/system or community volunteering.
  6. Transfer the power: Empower students with opportunities to own their own learning which includes finding their own teachers, creating their own classrooms, and finding other students to learn with.


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