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The Education System in The 19th Century

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In the past, education has been deemed to be the source of power -according to the Old education system dating in the 19th century, “Knowledge is power”. Over time as educational reforms have been analyzed and a wave of critical analysis has been put on to education, a movement called “New education” arose. In this new belief of education, power is sourced in a progressive and dimensional way; “activity and growth are power”. Education, as many things, contains ever-changing theories within its development. New theories from psychology are formed; child study, learning theories, children-centered ideologies and many more. As new studies rise, new forms of development are integrated into to educational reforms.

Education never stops changing as new ideas are explored. In this paper, I will analyze the old and new education system by comparing and contrasting their different methods of learning. The comparison will analyze the beneficial changes in education when child-centered and active classroom models are practiced. Through this analysis I will argue that the active learning approach of education, a type of a new education reform, is a far more superior ideology of educating children in comparison to the nineteenth century old education approach because of the following three main ideas; first, the physical space of learning must accommodate to the students basic needs and foster a comfortable learning environment in which students are able to socialize, communicate, and share ideas. Second, long-term retention of fact and information must be learned in dimensional ways and not through rote learning. Third, child-centered approach to learning will benefit all children in the classroom instead of one-sidedly teaching the class through the lecture approach. Within each main point, I will compare and contrast by stating how the old education failed to cater the needs of each point of my argument and how the modern education fulfills the needs of the learners in the modern day. A country’s educational system is an inseparable part of its social, political and economic history (Johnson, 3).

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The educational system is shaped by the people and for the people. Events in history have shaped the identity of the Canadian educational system, these events include; influence of the United States, posing a threat to the Canadian identity with their massive public communications; newspapers, magazines and books, movies, radio and television (Johnson, 4), the changing demographics of Canada with the massive influx of immigrants from France, Britain, Eastern Europe, Asia and America, and the changing needs of the different cultures, religions, and ethnic groups of Canada’s population. The history of education in Canada has involved the growth of formal instruction funded by taxes and supervised by the state. This growth resulted from concern about cultural, moral and political behaviour, the emergence of a wage-labour economy, changing concepts of childhood and the family, and the general reorganization of society into institutions.

The late 19th century and the 20th century marked the era of educational reform in Canadian education with the emergence of Progressive education beginning at the end of the nineteenth century when reformers realized that there was a need to change formalist education. Many educators understand the term “active learning” through intuitive understanding, more so than a common definition. Active learning, through Chickering and Gamson’s belief, is; students learn not just through the absorption of information, but by truly engaging with ideas. Students must “talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves”(4).

Instead of just sitting in class trying to memorize a teacher’s pre-packaged assignment, students must engage with the ideas through different manipulations of understanding. Approaches that promote active learning focus more on developing students’ skills than on transmitting information and require that students do something—read, discuss, write—that requires higher-order thinking. They also tend to place some emphasis on students’ explorations of their own attitudes and values. Examples of active learning concepts that would employ this belief would be; group/collaborative work where students can be put into small groups where they can discuss and clarify content, feedback lecture with questions and answers between the teacher and the students, creating brainstorming sessions; allowing time for students to take in information and guided lectures and presentations by students. These alternatives to the lecture format increase the students level of engagement with the teacher and the content The physical space of a learning environment must accommodate students basic needs and foster a comfortable learning environment in which students are able to socialize, communicate, and share ideas in order for effective engagement.

During the 19th century, the time of the Old education beliefs, schools did not have the same funding that the modern day currently has. Schools in the 19th century were funded by local organizations before the government appointed property tax, and even with some government funding, most schools were inadequate facilities. Mid-nineteenth century Upper Canada schools were described by students as “low-roofed, unplastered log buildings that were poorly ventilated, dirty, and badly furnished” (Houston, 204). Because of the lack of funding, furniture such as desks, chairs, blackboards, and supplies was homemade. School Inspector reports claim that public schools were frequently criticized for their inadequate toilet facilities, poor ventilation, inadequate heating and poor lighting in the classroom (Clark, 26). Socialization between students was non-existent, and their attention must be focused on the teacher. Students were not able to talk during class unless asked by the teacher, laughing and snickering were not tolerable, and respectful manners must be maintained or punishments will be given. Classrooms today are much different. Classrooms are safe spaces that possess the basic needs to facilitate learning; proper lighting, air quality is maintained, temperatures are controlled and have the basic supplies required. A new focus within the physical environment that modern schools have implemented is to have a redesigned space to promote change in approaches to teaching and learning. A design that shows a contrast to the nineteenth-century classroom space is the Active Learning Classroom (ALC) design.

The ALC design was inspired in the 1990’s by North Carolina State University (NCSU) from Bonwell and Eison’s “Active learning” theory. NCSU used the active learning components to design classrooms to engage students and promote active learning pedagogies such as inquiry-guided learning, peer instruction, and in-class, team-based learning (Phillipson, 2). These classrooms were designed to have space where students are able to engage. ALC’s challenge traditional classrooms because there is an emphasis to refrain from traditional classroom layouts. Instead of having strict rows of desks, ALC’s believe that furniture should not remain at one fixed point and should be allowable for movement; classrooms contained round tables for group work, or moveable individual tables and chairs so classrooms can be shaped in any way or form; for individual work, large groups, small groups. Physical visuals may also be used to convey engagement to theory with the use of whiteboards, projectors, large screens, computers and power outlets put all around the classrooms for student use, catering to visual learners who need observable cues.

ALC’s are designed to encourage student-to-student collaboration. The general sense of openness and spaciousness by being able to remove as much furniture as possible to enable pupils to move around the space. Making use of different areas to support the growth of ideas, promote pupils creativity and enables the students perspective to analyze the space is a work in progress (Davies, et al 84). By creating a space where movement and ideas are generated through space, it allows for reinforced learning. The integration of subjects through a variety of active learning models enables students to have long-term retention of content, rather than the “old” education ways of learning that focus on following textbooks, memorization, and drill.

“New education” perspectives rooted within the active learning pedagogy focuses on students’ independent exploration and generating and applying ideas in the classroom, which research has consistently shown that such instructional methods improve students’ conceptual understanding (Phillipson, 1). Nineteenth-century old education forms of learning styles in Canadian classrooms relied heavily on formalist views; emphasizing rote learning via strict discipline and memorization. Students in these classrooms were directed by teachers through routines that stressed drills, uniformity, and accuracy (Clark, 32). Students practiced their drilling and memorization skills through the recitation of poetry, pronunciation of English words, recitation of the multiplication table and other basic forms of learning the 3R’s (Cochrane, 33). In the old education, morals and manners were also highlighted within the school culture, and those who acted out received corporal punishments, such as “The Strap” which is the hitting of students, causing emotional, mental and physical abuse. Modern methods of integrating learning with content knowledge have evolved from rote learning to constructivist and transformative approach. In Phillipson’s study of Between Knowing and Learning: New Instructors’ Experiences in Active Learning Classrooms he summarizes Jack Mezirow’s classic theory of transformative learning in a few sentences; ..adults come to learning experiences with a rich history of prior knowledge and social acculturation, and thus the most advanced kinds of learning are not simply about adding new knowledge to fill the gaps.

Rather, because past experience shapes the meaning that adults make of current experience and creates boundaries around how people perceive and comprehend new data, the most advanced learning happens when learners critically reflect on their assumptions and premises. In so doing, if they transform the way they interpret a new experience or even the habitual structure of assumptions that informs their meaning-making more broadly, their learning has become transformative. (Phillipson, 6) Mezirow’s pedagogy of transformative learning involves the active construction of meaning by the learner. Active learning methods that reinforce active engagement include; cooperative learning, debates, small or big group discussions, role-playing, and simulation. These methods promote long-term retention of information by applying new information within different settings. Bransford et. al research states that “usable knowledge”, are facts that are connected and organized around important concepts that are relevant to the students ideas, these concepts are then “conditionalized” to contexts where it is applicable, therefore supporting understanding and transfer to other contexts, rather than just performing the ability to remember (9). By allowing students to participate and have influence with the content knowledge they are able to create a meaningful learning experience, hence being able to learn with understanding through learning (Bonwell, 7).

Rote memorization is not only inefficient, but it encourages learners not to think -just memorize. Students are more engaged learners when they play an active role in their learning, with the teacher as an activator of learning, rather than an instructor. During the time of the old education system, students were taught in one classroom schools with one teacher and a teacher’s assistant, also called as a “Monitor”. The lack of funding, inadequate teachers and limited access to education led to school systems that employed Monitorial classrooms. Monitorial classrooms were set in large classrooms where students sat in rows -it resembled an assembly line, organized to teach as many children possible for as cheap as possible (Cochrane, 9). Nineteenth-century classrooms did not cater to different types of learners. This is due to the lack of research about learning styles and pedagogy methods at the time, hence, poor application of teaching methods. Therefore, students who did not learn by rote learning failed in the monitorial school system. Modern-day classrooms have smaller class sizes, instead of teaching more than 40 students in a classroom they are teaching between 10-30 students. Teachers also have more freedom to teach the core curriculum with the regards of their own teaching style. The biggest change in comparison with old education and the modern education system is that classrooms integrate student-centered methods of teaching within their lessons. Active learning and student-centered methods work hand in hand to promote inclusive education for all students because the content is shaped to the students’ own experiences and knowledge.

A Student-centered approach to teaching requires teachers to tend their teachings to real-world contexts. To do this teachers must inquire students learning points first, secondly, the teacher will use active learning strategies that are associated for learning, such as; student-generated questioning, peer assessment, and self-assessment, sharing the assessment of criteria, decision-making activities and using assessment information to adapt their teaching (Brame, 3). By allowing individuality, free thought and speech students can manipulate the content knowledge to their own “usable knowledge” and gain an understanding of their own learning style. Ideas of education will change through time and space. Through research and development, educational reforms will progress with the changing needs of the nations children, society, policy, and economy.

Formalist methods of education dominated Canada up until the 20th century when progressive forms of education were lamented. Problems in the old education, such as; low funding, inadequate buildings and supplies, lack of schools, lack of transportation, untrained and disrespected teachers and the conflict between French and English controls within the public and private school systems have hindered and at the same time enhanced education over time. My analysis of the old education in comparison to the active learning approach identified that first, the physical environments of modern education has met the basic necessities of a safe learning environment as well as impose an engaging culture that schools in the nineteenth century could not attain. Second, rote learning is a poor method of engaging with fact, but instead learning through relating meaningful experiences with fact and knowledge content is key for long-term retention. And third, by shifting from a monitorial teacher-centered approach to a student-centered approach, individual learning styles are met within the guidance of one teacher, instead of the assembly line approach where only one learning style -the lecture style, is used. The nineteenth-century old education system is not nearly up to par in comparison to the modern education system Canada has today, but in consideration, frameworks of old education have acted as a stepping stone to the educational reforms moving towards the 20th and 21st century. Learning and understanding the past of what makes up the history of education fill further enhance what holds the future of educational reform.

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