Does the world need more teachers

Do we even need teachers in the future?

Do you know what is meant by the “just in time” method in business? Put simply, the point is that the materials and raw materials for a product are only delivered to the factory when the customer has ordered the product. In this way, the producer saves storage costs and the entire value creation process remains lean. The Japanese invented "just in time" for their auto industry, I still knew that much. What I didn't know so far: You can also apply the method to learning. This was recently explained to me by the Indian educational researcher Sugata Mitra, whom I met at one of our events. And since I've been very intensively involved with education as chairman of the Telekom Foundation for a good six months, I found that pretty exciting.

In principle, Mitra criticizes the way knowledge is imparted in our schools today. Our world is so unpredictable, he believes, that nobody can say what a young person will need to know in ten or even five years. Nevertheless, the school rigidly adheres to the same curriculum. Mitra calls this the "just in case" method: the teacher teaches students how to solve a quadratic equation just in case they encounter the problem again at some point in their life. Mitra thinks this is a waste.

From "just in case" to "just in time"

Instead, he calls for a switch from “just in case” to “just in time”: Instead of randomly cramming knowledge into the students, the teachers should teach them how they can quickly acquire this knowledge themselves if the worst comes to the worst. In other words, he suggests educating students to become Google pros. His message to her: “Whenever you come across something in life that is new to you, do not be afraid! All you need to deal with it is the internet. "

Just to explain: Professor Mitra became internationally known with the thesis that children and young people could theoretically teach themselves everything if they were only put in groups in front of computers with large screens and an Internet connection at school. Such settings, which he calls “self-organized learning environments”, have been tried out all over the world. And I have to admit the results are really impressive. Everywhere the students were able to solve sometimes difficult tasks and to open up complex subject areas without prior knowledge. (If you want to know more about Mitra's experiment, you should listen to this lecture, with which he won the renowned TED Prize for his idea in 2013.) And yet I have two problems with Mitra's thesis:

  1. Researching knowledge on the Internet - that is by no means learning, let alone education. Who can tell me that in the end the students really understood something, really got through the topic? Some people may have already learned about Google and Wikipedia, but definitely no one is smart!
  2. Where are the teachers? In Mitra's experiment, they only appear, if at all, as key words. He even writes that they would hinder learning progress if they intervened more. Numerous studies - the best known of all the meta-study by John Hattie - have shown how important the teacher is for the learning process of the students, not least because of their social function.

I was somewhat relieved when Professor Mitra agreed with me on at least my second point. Yes, of course there must also be teachers in the future. In his opinion, however, they should fundamentally change their teaching. Instead of always just passing on existing knowledge, they should rather devote themselves to what we do not yet know today. So the big questions and challenges of our time. That is much more exciting and motivating for the students.

I have to say that in the end the professor did not completely convince me with his thesis. Although there are some things about his idea that are really worth considering. For example, his argument that self-organized learning makes the teaching profession more interesting again. Instead of constantly having to plan lessons, prepare worksheets and exams, the teacher simply nudges his students with a clever research question - they then do the rest themselves. This leaves him more time to think about what he really wants to teach the children. There's something to it, don't you think?

Photo: Jens Schicke / Deutsche Telekom Foundation