‘UnEducation’: A Creative Path to Better Teaching and Learning

Question: What happens when you ‘un’ something?

Answer: You turn it into its opposite. You flip it. Believable becomes unbelievable, blocked becomes unblocked and afraid becomes unafraid. Uning doesn’t make a thing disappear, it simply inverts it. It is not a negation but a reversal.

Just lately there has also been a lot of ‘uning’ in education – unconferencing and unwebinars come immediately to mind. And there is the parallel trend of ‘flipping’.

Uning and flipping aim to disrupt traditional educational practices by turning them upside-down and, in so doing, try to make them better. Hence, flipping the classroom looks at how classwork and homework operate, and then switches them around to create a better model for understanding (where kids can rewatch lessons as many times as they need at home, and the teacher is there to help with application activities in class). And an ‘unteacher’ like me is more concerned with helping kids to develop healthy mental diets (free from mental junk), and with teaching them to find out independently, than he is with force-feeding young and minds.

So what if we uned more aspects of education? What if we grabbed them and turned them inside out? What if we exposed the vital inner working of different aspects of education and tried to imagine what would happen if we rearranged them?

By questioning the core elements of the education system in this way, I believe that we can get to some deeply creative alternatives which enhance the quality and relevance of how we educate young people.

Some examples:


What if we allowed students to see the test before they wrote it? What if they themselves set the test? What if they could use the Internet whilst writing tests? What if we tested as much before teaching as we did after? What if we gave students the answers and then asked them for the questions? What if every test could be customised and personalised?

Wouldn’t this all mean that we have to think differently about how we test, what we test and why we test?


Do we really need a standardized syllabus for all young people of a particular age in a particular region? Why should teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders (like businesses) not have a say in the creation of syllabi? Could syllabi be made modular so as to be mixed and matched by students according to their interests and strengths? And what about going the other way – what about an fundamental international / transnational syllabus for global citizens?



Instead of giving away awards for ‘academic excellence’, what about awards for helping others, for improvement and for creativity? What about awards for sustained insightfulness and critical thinking and curiosity? How about for awards independent, self-driven learning or publishing a poem or building an Arduino gadget? What if students voted for award nominees themselves? What if teachers had to compete for awards instead of kids?


What if classrooms changed weekly? What if classes belonged to students and they could make these spaces their own? What if classrooms became spaces where students felt comfortable? What if walls between classes were temporary and shiftable (or nonexistent?) What if the border between inside and outside the classroom were a bit more hazy? What if entire schools modeled themselves after the Googleplex? And what if classrooms became spaces for kids to explore and tinker and show what they know, more than rooms in which knowledge is transferred?

Untimetables / Unsubjects

Why structure a student’s day so rigidly into a set amount of periods and subjects? Why not make the whole thing more fluid? Why not combine subjects randomly every two weeks or so? And why not schedule time for reflection? Or how about including new subjects like Integrated Studies, Philosophy or Chess? How about having an optional school day once or twice a week (where students can learn online instead of the classroom)? Why not have more ‘masterclasses’ where common skills are taught or topics entirely outside of the syllabus are raised?

UnConferences / Unmeetings / Untraining

Teachers are fully capable of organising and training themselves. Why not turn the whole thing over to them?

Are there any other ‘uns’ you think I could add? Untextbooks maybe? Unedtech? UnSTEM? (I like that last one very much actually!)


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