So here's a thought, about jobs and education

So, hands up if you reckon traditional student/teacher ratios are even halfway optimal.


Okay, so what would be? I’m thinking like five, maybe even four to one. With even more resources poured into early years (my SO is a kindergarten teacher).

And yet, we have all this hand-wringing about robots stealing all our jerbs.

I mean, come on. Just imagine how much potential is going to waste like this, and how much difference it could make.

Where’s the long-term study? Why haven’t I seen anybody banging on about this?


I mean, I’d say that 10 students to 1 teacher for the entire primary and secondary schooling up to 8th grade would work well.

High school needs as many teachers as possible and students to mix as well as possible so that they meet each other at a young age before they really learn to hate each other. Like adult hate I mean.

But I agree with your point, it’s just more optimistic than I am.


I wouldn’t imagine they’d be the same few students constantly. You’d have to mix it up, for sure.


I haven’t heard student/teacher ratios framed as a solution to unemployment before, but I like it. I’m not sure what people think is more important to the growth and development of the human race (and thus a better focus of resources) than passing knowledge forward.

In the field I work in, Early Childhood, the “Professional Development Specialist” (re-branded from “Trainer,” quite appropriately) is a growth industry. Non-credit bearing and credit bearing, work-oriented, ongoing education. furthermore the model gaining the most respect and traction is in coaching/consulting, which is extremely low ratio, but each coach jas several student/clients at any given time.

So much of education is more appropriate as a mixed teaching/apprenticeship model that fosters question asking, exploration, reflection and experimentation. this is true from cradle to grave, though only respected by funders and legislators before kindergarten and only then because of helath amd safety regilations. I wonder if we’ll see a ballooning of ratios the more publicly finded pre-k amd 3yo service expands and the “taxpayer” weighs in.

Of course low ratios are touted - in the sales materials of elite private schools. the wealthy know intuitively that low ratios are great for their children, but oops, for public school kids, sorry, show me the studies. sorry more studies. hmmm, gonna need one mo…YOU’RE DEFUNDED


Not only lower ratio, but also engineer the optimal class structure. A few years ago, I went to a lecture by Dr. Sugata Mitra:

He put computers in Indian ghettos, connected to the internet, where street children could use them: kids who couldn’t read and had no parents. The workstations were constructed in such a way that they could not get broken or stolen.

Two major things happened:

  1. Kids taught themselves how to use them
  2. Kids self organized into flexible roles and structure for efficient use of the resource

There are natural ways classrooms organize and teaching plays out. We should invest more time discovering ways to apply them.

If that link doesn’t work for some reason, just Google Sugata Mitra and watch some of his stuff. It’s fascinating.


Yeah, I don’t know if most people are going to be down with itinerant bachelors being in charge of their kids all day. You’re going to have to actually train people, instead of assuming teachers are glorified babysitters, which I’m fine with, but that’s going to add to your overhead, which is the basic problem with the current state of education in the first place–pay teachers more, and you can hit whatever student-teacher ratio you want.


Agreed. Low student-to-teacher ratios are great, but only if you have a lot more qualified teachers and that means paying decent wages.


but it doesn’t cost more to train a teacher than other professions. Right-wingers balk at training and paying teachers, but not engineers. Finding enthusiastic people who want to teach is hard, for sure, although with the premise of small ratios and project based learning, perhaps in an area of expertise or interest of the teacher, it could look more attractive (I mean, yeah, and the rest of the cultural barriers)

I’m a little obsessed with the idea of not having just one job. I actually think a gig-ish economy undergirded by a strong welfare atate could be pretty great. I know artists, who if they weren’t starving would actually enjoy the variety of daily activity that comes from drop-in classes at elementary schools, some labor and aome arts. A lot of people could gain insight, human connection and pride from being able to use part of their week teaching.

Of course anyone who teaches, even oart time does need tp know how to teach. Pedagogy is it’s own unique and complex skillset, but one that should perhaps pervade our educational system, they way math and reading are. hell, we have a lot of bad “teachers” out there in the form of middle.managera, senior doctors, master olumbers, etc…who learnes the craft but know.nothing ofneffevtively cultivating unswrstanding im others.

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That’s not the problem they’re talking about. Teaching is one of the lowest paid profession that requires a four year degree. All the other stuff is irrelevant until someone can make it worth their while to put the amount of effort the job requires, and that isn’t going to change until we take school funding away from communities. As it stand now, real estate/local tax supported schools have create separate but unequal across the board, which perpetuates situations where poor communities lack good teachers, which in turn creates a feedback loop of poverty.

Absolutely we need more teachers. We can’t get them until we make significant changes to society.


It’s bigotry, why we have the teaching system that we do. The bigots wouldn’t send their own kids to a bad school with crappy teaching. But they’ll make damn sure everyone else has to, because well, WE sure as hell aren’t paying for your kids to get a good education. Assholes!


It is literally that, yes.


The Finnish educational system would be a good model to study. One of the problems in the US is the extreme fragmentation and segregation of the educational system, that makes reform very difficult, if not impossible. Better-off people are willing to invest in a better education, for example by buying a more expensive house in a better school district, but only for the benefit of their own children.


Sure, but Finland is a little over half the size of LA county. We could do just as well looking at Massachusetts, which is more populous than Finland, and has demographics that are closer to the US as a whole, and as a state, happens to score better than most developed countries in the world.

As has been stated above, the “problem”* is largely due to race, so studying very homogenous places won’t necessarily yield very much wisdom.

*despite the FUD, US standardized test scores have largely been increasing since we’ve been counting, most recent stagnation or decrease has to do with changes in demographics


Students need feedback. Computer programming has built-in feedback, in the form of programs either working, not working, or partially working (and the latter two come with error messages). It is basically the one academic subject where this is the case, so you can’t generalize from it to anything, really.

Like most people of my generation, I was self-taught on programming (at least up until grad school); I can’t imagine having competence at a similar level in any other subject with the same lack of human interaction.

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You need to watch Dr. Mitra’s videos. It’s much more. They were not only learning to code. They were doing all sorts of stuff on the computers. And there was plenty of interaction… with their peers.

The story he told is that he went up to a group of kids at one of the kiosks. He did not let on that he was the inventor. He passed himself off as just some curious older guy on the street. He noticed that the kids were not simply “taking turns” but that they worked as a group. There was an operator who was at the keyboard, a director directing the flow of operations and generally taking charge, and multiple engineers who would chime in as needed if they had something to contribute. All self-organizing. And over many visits, he noticed that it wasn’t always the same kids in the same roles every time. Things were flexible because some kids knew more about some stuff than other stuff.

Anyways, watch the vids. They taught themselves. They got feedback from the machine and each other. Mitra’s whole teaching philosophy is to be the facilitator not the information provider. Some feedback & evaluation, of course. But that’s not the primary role. The most effective role for a teacher is to be the organizing factor and help kids teach themselves.

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Sure, that was how I learned to code too; together with friends we played with the available machine (a PDP-8/s), helping one another master the syntax, setting tasks for one another, etc.

This kind of program is a school administrator’s wet dream: dump technology into a classroom in place of actual teachers and Win! However, independent analysis simply does not support the thesis that experiments such as unschooling, Mitra’s hole-in-the-wall, Negroponte’s one-laptop-per-child, etc actually result in significant gains, outside of the immediate ability of the kids learning to code.

Peer instruction is already built into most educational systems from K through university (we use it too), but it is absolutely positively not a substitute for teachers when there is content to the course beyond simple operational skills.

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Who said anything about “in place of” teachers? You are making a straw man argument here. These experiments point the way to improving people’s learning by exposing the natural patterns, which can then be accentuated in the classroom.

Everyone touting these programs, including Mitra. If all you are saying is that K12 classrooms should be unstructured with things (like computers) that the kids can work on together, that’s nothing new, and probably what is going on every day in the school down your street.

I heard the man speak. I listened to every word. At no point did he suggest that teachers be replaced. I think you are being argumentative, for reasons I don’t know.

He certainly did at the IATEFL conference in 2014. In an interview after his plenary talk he said that while teachers are not redundant now, they will be soon, “like bus drivers”.

I think you are being argumentative, for reasons I don’t know.

I am being argumentative (if that’s what you want to call it) because education is my profession, and in my professional capacity I am well aware of programs like Mitras and have firsthand experience of the dangerous influence they have already had on administrators and policymakers, and the impact they have on people like me every day.

These guys come along with essentially no knowledge of a century of hard research into educational practice and with some idea for a flashy disruptive experiment, and it seems to work (though the metrics for success are quite weak, usually anecdotal), and by the time the followups show limited benefit it is too late, administrators and school boards and regents and DeVosses have already signed onto this magical thinking and imposed policy (such as the failed SJSU Mooc flirtation).

As anyone with skin in the game can tell you, the real straw man here is the mythical teacher resistant to new ideas or new technologies. Teachers (like @Kimmo’s SO) at every level are the first ones to grab onto any idea that works – they didn’t become teachers because they hate education! – but normally educational effectiveness is something that is carefully evaluated in controlled studies and with students in target disciplines. (Not just computer programming. Speaking as someone who has taught in two university CS departments, CS is a piss-poor representative of learning in general.)