USA: Abe Fischler

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Dr Abe Fischler - Fischler School of Education and Human Services

Dr Abe Fischler discusses the challenges for education in the 21st century, and how to transform education through innovation, change, and making time a variable.

Dr. Abraham Fischler has been improving education for the past 50 years. A pioneer in distance learning and an 'anarchist' when it came to educational reform, he introduced technology as a core tool in teaching and was the first in the USA to create distance education at the doctoral level, turning Nova Southeastern University in Florida into a national leader in distance education.

The Fischler School of Education and Human Services is the first college in the United States to award doctorates in education, and as President Emeritus of Nova Southeastern University, Dr Fischler remains a high profile education expert widely respected throughout the USA. His thoughts on current educational challenges and solutions can be read on his popular blog:


Education In The 21st Century

Dr Fischler holds deeply held beliefs about the current state of education in the United States and a clear vision for what it needs to become to serve the needs of both students and the country as a whole. He immediately identifies the need to transform education so as to enable each child to succeed.

"We have educated a class of people, but we were never interested, truly, in the extent to which we should have been in educating every child of every parent"

In the USA there is a high correlation between social economic level and finishing high school, a dynamic clearly reflected in graduation results:

"In a city like New York, 53 per cent of the students in the ninth grade graduate. The other 47 per cent do not. In Los Angeles it's about 50:50. In Broward County Florida, 30 per cent of our ninth graders do not graduate"

Dr Fischler argues - along with many others - that this situation is increasingly untenable on many levels.

"At one time we didn't care about the high failure rates amongst students because we were an industrial nation. Plenty of jobs for most.... But the world and the workplace are changing. The Third World countries are producing, have the raw materials and cheap labour...we are going through a transformation, but our schools are back in the 20th Century".

Dr Fischler argues that solutions must address fundamental assumptions about how education is delivered:

"It has always been that we group all the six year olds together and put them in the first grade and they moved as a the unit is the class and the teacher taught the class, kids are grouped together but the relevancy of the information will vary in relation to each child's level."

Dr Fischler firmly believes that we have "an old industrial model", where the timetable and pace of teaching is fixed when it should be variable. His argument is that we know children learn at different rates and have different preferential learning styles, and that to truly address the issues around achievement we have to start by understanding the individual needs of every student and tailoring educational experiences accordingly.


Industry Involvement: Designing Effective Education For Employment

Dr Fischler expresses his desire to see greater integration of practical experience with academic education; to see a closer relationship between "the teacher, the student and what's going on outside."

"When you're taking educational psychology and you're planning to be a teacher, psychology ought to force you to go into a school and do a write up on a child... because that's the product you're going to be working with - children. Build this experience into the very design (of the university course)".


A Vision For The Future: Producing Active, Lifelong Learners With Skills Essential For The Workplace

Having argued that the US operates an outdated and, in many ways, dysfunctional education system, Dr Fischler lays out his vision for the future.

He is convinced that existing technology can help deliver the rapid transformation that is urgently needed and that it can be used to re-define the roles of both teacher and student. His belief is that the transformation of education takes place in order for each child to succeed. Much of this argument rests on the total transformation of schooling. Referring to the curriculum, Dr Fischler suggests that all the information needed to be memorised is now readily available online, signalling a profound shift in emphasis for schools, teachers and students.

One of the criticisms levelled at greater use of technology in classrooms is that it isolates children by keeping them in front of a screen, working on their own. Interestingly, Dr Fischler argues for the positive effects of integrating technology into teaching, learning and problem solving. Students can work in pairs and small groups utilizing technology for learning, research and communication:

"It's easy to put (students) into teaming groups and allocate responsibilities, shared responsibilities, so that they get a sense that everybody (is) part of a team so they're learning those kinds of behaviour patterns as well".

He continues by suggesting that a project-based curriculum, where "we can be sitting in the same room, working on different materials" has huge value not only in terms of learning more traditional "practical pieces of education" (mathematics, languages, science) but the important attributes of collaboration, communication and the desire to learn. Time must be a variable and mastery by each child is what we expect.

In addition Dr. Fischler believes that students need to graduate with skills essential for the workplace and the tools and motivation to continue to learn. Students need and learn team, presentation, problem solving, research, communication and analytical skills, as well as accountability, through small group projects and presentations.

He believes that "creativity comes by looking at something and asking a different question, a question that's exciting to you". In the 21st Century this crucial mindset can be achieved by

"...Putting people through a collection of puzzles, of problem solving activities... through practical projects, through the nature of enquiry"

Referring to his personal experiences of teaching at Harvard and the University of California Berkeley, Dr Fischler opposes the standard professors' teaching construct of prescribing what students should work on. Instead he challenged his students to ask questions rather than answer his, stating that

"That model (of defining questions for students) doesn't work, so when I created Nova, that didn't happen. The professor was there, not to teach you, but to answer questions that came from your enquiry into your chosen area...Don't ask me - you go and find out"

Seems to best summarise Abe Fischler's take on the role of education in the 21st century.