Education books

25th February 2000 at 00:00
Global concerns. The hopes for distance education are high, especially in the developing nations. Asa Briggs, himself a pioneer in open learning, shares them. Characteristically, he contributes a generous foreword to Open and Distance Learning in the Developing World by Hilary Perraton (Routledge pound;18.99) and dates it Bastille Day, 1999 - an assertion, perhaps, that the classroom walls are finally about to tumble. But that isn't going to happen, according to this hugely impressive survey.

Open and distance learning is universal, but it remains a much smaller enterprise than the huge human activity of teaching children in schools. In higher education, completion rates are low. The evidence, Perraton says, is of achievement falling behind hope.

Why is that so, and does it matter? Perraton describes projects in every continent and at every educational level to show that open learning can be effective, but tends not to be efficient. Except in the case of radio (greatly underused, he says), new technology invariably adds to costs and may narrow rather than widen access.

The corollary is that formal learning, for all its huge expansion, isn't always efficient either. Perraton's comprehensive overview argues that we need to look critically at both, and make them better.

Designing the Learning Centred School by Clive Dimmock (Falmer pound;15.95) deals entirely with formal learning but here, too, the outlook is global. Clive Dimmock has worked in educational research and practice in Britain, the United States, Australia and Hong Kong. His argument, based on observations in all four cultures, is that schools, far from being restructured by the state, need to redesign themselves for the future by delivering to every single student "uniforml high quality service".

What he writes is persuasive and interesting, and there are some striking comparisons between Western and Chinese school practice. It is also refreshingly direct, and free from jargon. He's suitably provocative on the conservatism of teachers and the need for change. It is not just conservative teachers, however, who will query the feasibility of the root-and-branch reform that he wants schools eagerly to embrace - schools already carry a near impossible range of expectations (he lists alcoholism, drugs, crime, vandalism and family break-ups among them) and they operate, as he admits, in "a turbulent environment". It is part of his argument that no school is an island, and that's an important consideration.

Inculcating citizenship, of course, is one of those expectations. Case studies that remind us of just how universal that expectation is are part of the value of the new edition of Citizenship for the 21st Century: an International Perspective on Education by John Cogan and Ray Derricott (Kogan Page pound;19.99). Citizenship is a global concern - and these pages show very clearly how rapidly globalisation is changing our once-fixed concepts of nationhood and identity.

More prosaically, Cogan and Derricott summarise the provisions of the Crick Report and the new national curriculum requirements based upon it, and they outline the comprehensive range of websites and resources available. But resource availability won't be the major problem - the real challenge will be devising a teaching and learning programme that helps children both to understand the multi-dimensional nature of citizenship and to put it into practice. For that, the later chapters of this book will be invaluable.

MICHAEL DUFFY


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