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Never Mind On-Line Learning. This is About On-Line Tutoring

In the Western world we often take public education for granted. We find it easy to overlook the fact that, in comparison to much of the rest of the world, we have been advantaged from our educational systems. We are so accustomed to what we have that it feels like we’ve always had access to public schools.

But Canada's patchwork of provincially controlled school systems, for example, actually only started about 160 years ago; largely based upon the research, visioning, and recommendations of Jean-Baptiste Meilleur in Quebec, Egerton Ryerson in Ontario, and John Jessop in British Columbia. And the development of these provincial systems were strategic, with the value of public education recognized across Canada as an effective tool that could be used, not simply to develop academic knowledge in students, but to respond to the societal issues of the day such as poverty and crime. Furthermore, Canada in the mid 1800's was undergoing significant demographic and economic changes that resulted from immigration and the transition from family farming to industrial capitalism. And our current provincial systems have been largely successful because they originated from strong institutional and societal demand and support. The bottom line is that, while our educational systems have been in place for a relatively short period of time, they were strategically designed in the midst of a different era - devoid of the many new and different objectives that we require today.

If we could control time and assume that our "modern" systems of public education were being created right now, what would they look like? Without our current conditions as a reference point, would we create our schools and classrooms the same way that they exist today? Would we choose to take the same approaches, as those that were developed for the 1800's industrial age, to teach our children today? Of course we wouldn't. And we have proof of this right before our eyes - allow me to explain. You may have noticed that there is a lot of reflection happening right now about the impact of student access to on-line learning and massive, open, on-line courses (MOOC's). But, for the most part, the impact of these important developments on the actual redesign of our educational systems is limited to our colleges and universities; they haven't yet caught up to the same degree with our public schools. That is, the application of on-line learning and technology in our elementary and high schools, in comparison to our universities and colleges, continues to be seen only as a support to the well-established approaches to curriculum delivery that originated back at the beginning of the industrial era. They aren't yet recognized as a driver for system reform. So what, in fact, is the most conspicuous trend happening in elementary and secondary education? The answer to this question is private tutoring - that's right, tutoring. Consider that, according to a 2010 report from GIA (Global Industry Analysts) Inc., the global private tutoring market is now projected to surpass $152 billion by 2015. $152 Billion! That's a lot of private tutoring.

Now, let's break this down a bit - what does it really mean? Well, a direct quote from this particular GIA announcement claims that the "industry's growth is primarily attributed to the inability of a standard education system to address the unique needs of each student. Each student differs from the other in terms of comprehension, caliber and ability and existing education systems in various countries are unable to offer the required individual attention. As a result, private tutoring has assumed enormous significance as the approach provides an individual, innovative, and personal education system to students." In other words, this is a good example of Edushift premise number 1 in action. But let's take this even further, beginning with a recognition that public education systems are not created equally. Many people in this world are not as fortunate as we are in Canada to have access to strong and well supported systems of public education. And so we can also recognize that the rapidly growing success of on-line private tutoring in these particular markets is their new reality. This is the education that parents with means are choosing, in the absense of reasonably well supported public alternatives, to educate their children. Global communications have opened up previously unavailable resources to these markets. They can pick and choose what they want.

The countries from which these markets reside also have a new opportunity to strategically develop their public education systems from this new global context – to make personalized education available to as many of their citizens as possible. However, many of these same countries may never find the necessary means or operational capability to develop public education systems that meet the magnitude of our current western standards. They will seek to maximize local return by taking full advantage of the new offerings available through private and other globally developing opportunities. Educational system innovation in response to Edushift Premise 1, for these countries, will be seen as a full opportunity. In the western world, the earlier success of our systems of public education is having an opposite effect; it is impeding our ability to meet the need for educational system reform. We are so accustomed to our industrial era approach to public education that we can’t easily find the motivation or operational means to meet the increasing demand for personalized student services. And make no mistake; the United States, Canada and Europe are also seeing a rapid increase in private tutoring services. But ours is not an issue of access to resources. It’s an issue of our desire and ability to change what we already have.

So, if we believe in premise number 1, and we believe (like we believed 160 years ago) in the value of building strong public educational systems that align with national objectives, then it is only logical that we strive now to redesign our public systems to ensure that standards are maintained and that access is ensured for all to the same level of personalized service that is already being offered and heavily marketed by private industry. By the way, is the first result that I get on a Google search for “on-line tutoring”. According to its main page, it has recently been featured on NBC and the BBC. Assuming you can afford it, you can choose right now to sign up for 24 x 7 instructional services, from tutors with graduate degrees, on any number of topics that align with US state curriculum. The company claims over 7,454,000 live tutoring sessions served. So, where should we go from here?

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