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The National School of the United States

Mark Easley | Sunday, November 20, 2011

There is a tech revolution brewing in education that will change how we learn critical skills. People attack the problems of education with great ideas that require significant policy change. I have an idea the current administration can enact now that will further the education of Americans for years to come without as significant an effort. I will call this program “The National School of the United States,” or “The National School” for short.

The National School is a completely online institution where the nation’s best teachers will record video lectures to teach classes from primary school to college. They will teach classes that are required by all 50 states as well as classes that are just plain interesting and good to take. The initial idea is to supplement education resources and give Americans access to knowledge for free via streaming online video content. What it could eventually evolve into is a whole new approach to how we educate the youth of America and give everyone an equal opportunity at education in this country, regardless of financial background.

This is not an original idea, but it is an original application. Video lectures are a growing movement in higher education, as well as online coursework. OpenCourseWare was started by MIT to provide course lectures free of charge online; it has also been adopted in China and Japan. The Teaching Company is a private company that puts out video lecture series on different academic subjects and charges for access. The Khan Academy is a series of educational videos and progress tracking software available for free. The University of Phoenix is an accredited university with a large percentage of virtual students. YouTube contains thousands of amateur and professional lecture tapings from classrooms all over the world. The technology is there; now is the time to harvest the crop.

The National School will take the best teachers in America and give them an online classroom to teach thousands, and potentially millions, of students. There are already many awards and programs that recognize outstanding teachers nationwide, so it would not be hard to find recruits. Plus, we could pay these teachers very well for the great service they would be doing for the country. These teachers would be primary school educators teaching cursive, basic mathematics, reading and writing. They would be middle and high school teachers teaching Shakespeare, algebra, chemistry, public speaking, foreign language and computer programming. They will be faculty at universities and colleges teaching philosophy, design, theology, biochemistry, marketing and architecture. There is no end to the scope of what could be taught.

You want to take science classes with Creationism as opposed to evolution? Go ahead. You want to take a class that predicates Global Warming as real? Fine. Even things such as military science, hobbyist activities and artistic endeavors could be taught. Multiple teachers in each subject will give the depth and breadth even the most curious student would want. Teachers will be held accountable because their content will be out there to be analyzed, commented on and judged for accuracy and popular opinion. We would create a vast suppository of freely accessible knowledge not seen since the Ancient Library of Alexandria.

While school is great for learning how to interact with others and learning and working in groups, it’s not that advantageous over online learning. I would argue you can achieve a better education at the purely academic level by taking online classes and supplementing them with occasional live help. Make the lecture the homework and use class time for homework exercises.

Schools are also great for extra-curriculars such as arts and sports. These are things that can’t always be taken online; however, some aspects such as proper technique when playing a saxophone or fundamentals of making a proper tackle can be taught virtually.

At first, The National School will be a great resource for teachers nationwide to use in their own classrooms or assign for homework. What it later can become is a catalyst that makes the teaching field much more competitive, lucrative and fulfilling, while giving all students, including those disadvantaged by poverty, access to an education worthy of anyone. States could even experiment with using The National School as a replacement for certain school days, or as a study resource that students can use to pass tests to get them credit for classes.

All these benefits, and we don’t have to force anyone to do anything or change a stubborn system. Education is the great equalizer and the one thing we all should be happy to pay to pass on to the next generation.

In the meantime, I encourage the administrators of Notre Dame to look into joining OpenCourseWare or posting video lectures online for the benefit of those who are not as fortunate to be exposed to such a wealth of knowledge and talent on a daily basis. Who are we to horde the tools of progress behind a wall of gold?

 

Mark Easley is a senior computer science major. He can be contacted at measley@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.