First SOL schools in Switzerland – a warning signal

Criticism of Curriculum 21 is confirmed

by Dr. iur. Marianne Wüthrich

On 7 November 2015 about 150 parents, grandparents, private tutors and other citizens gathered on the school yard of the commune Niederhasli (Canton Zurich) to express their protest against the radical form of the so-called “Self-Organized Learning” (SOL) which the secondary school Seehalde has been practising for more than two years. The banners read: “SOL – Seehalde Ohne Lehrer (Seehalde without teachers)” or: “SOL – Stress – Ohnmacht – Leiden (stress – blackout – suffering)”.1 Parents demand that their children be taught by teachers again.

In summer 2014 already 12 out of 30 secondary school teachers (7th – 9th class) quit their jobs at another secondary school in this district, because  SOL is as well intended to replace the teacher-led lessons from 2016 onwards.
The cantonal directors of education affirm that this had nothing to do with the planned introduction of the Curriculum 21, as the latter allegedly preserved the free choice of teaching methods. Anyone who has studied only a few pages in this Curriculum 21 realizes: “Self-organized learning” is the basic principle of this botch-job. Freedom of methods? – Not at all! And of course, the cantonal directors of education are well aware of that.
A short information programme of the Swiss Television SRF provides insight into the type of school that we and our children would have to face under the reign of Curriculum 21 and the related training of teachers in all German Swiss cantons. Whoever saw and heard the program will realise that it is high time to do something about it: teacher training at teacher colleges is already modelled on these ideas today, appropriate text books are in planning. We must put a stop to this dangerous development, the sooner the better.

A vivid impression of “Lessons” with SOL2

An open-plan classroom with individual seats, each divided by little walls from their neighbour’s; distributed in the room are some desks with several chairs, some sofa corners. There is not one class, but a group of students between 13 and 16: mixed age learning! During the six-minute program hardly any of the students remains at the same place; some are busy with their iPad in some kind of berth, three are discussing at a desk, a teacher is unconcernedly sitting  on the side studying his documents, others are standing at the door talking to a teacher, then again, eight or nine students are together in the back of the room, partly sitting, partly standing, four girls are sitting on a settee, one is handling her laptop, the others cannot even see the screen. Constantly one or more young people are running around in this open-plan class room. The iPad – main teaching and work means of every student – is omnipresent. The school material is digitalized and can be downloaded by the young. Hardly anyone seems to be focussed on some work – a girl in a single cubicle is swiftly stuffing a few papers under the table as the camera  moves towards her. No one knows what the different groups are talking about: Is it the explanation of a maths problem or a discussion about the last football match? To have an overview of the activities of all students is obviously not a duty of the teacher here.
Headmaster Gregory Turkawka, with a designer stubble and with a casually arranged scarf declares his “basic principles”: “If we learn in a self-organized way, we actually  want the students to learn to organize their learning process themselves. Our lessons reflect these principles.”
A veraciously profound utterance! This headmaster passes the responsibility for their learning and their success to the young. In this school the word “lesson” is misplaced: The teachers only give short sequences of “inputs”. The rest of the time the students have to organize on their own, as mentioned above. If questions arise, you have to make an “appointment” with a teacher. If you do not understand the subject hopefully your parents can tell you, or you need a private tutor – paid by the parents. Otherwise you will be left behind.

Systematic structure - the  Alpha and Omega of learning

The missing systematic of subject matters entails serious consequences. Even for a college student it is essential to learn the topics according to a logical organisation – and he can be expected if necessary to ask for help by himself. In contrast, in elementary school the structured knowledge transfer by a teacher is indispensable, namely during classroom teaching. Someone, who is only allowed to ask questions, but does basically not understand the content, will give up and will be left behind soon. The point is not, whether a school “moves with the times”. Of course, students use the computer at higher grades of elementary school, if necessary, but these teaching units must be under the teacher’s guidance and embedded in the teaching sequence. Searching the internet does not lead  to memorized knowledge, if a certain knowledge base has not been laid yet. To abolish the entire curriculum and to digitise school books would have highly disastrous effects.
As important as the latter is a trusted relationship between student and teacher respectively fellow students. If a lively exchange in the classroom does not exist, confidence won’t develop. So-called professional educators who characterise the indispensible lifely classroom instruction as so-called “frontal”, in which the teacher exclusively soliloquises while students just have to listen, either have no idea of today’s school or they are lieing: no teacher of today teaches that way.
Read here a special comment on language teaching: It is impossible to learn a language by  SOL or with the iPad, not even your mother tongue. To learn to read and to write can only be learned in teraction with other people.

Private tutoring is booming – and what about those who can’t afford it?

The private tutoring school in this village has twice as many requests since the introduction of SOL at the secondary school Seehalde, because many pupils are lagging behind the curriculum. Often, the private tutor has to completely work once again through the lessons  with the children.3 As said above:  only those children, whose parents can effort it, get this extracurricular help.
What happens to the others? A parents councillor of the school: “I would say 80% of the students get along very well.» The SRF-moderator: “what about the other 20%. Parents Councillor: “I would say that they have anyway had  difficulties. They have to work towards the ability to learn on their own – work until they understand what that means, to be independent.”
Maybe it’s rather the parental councillor who has difficulties and hardly understands. The mandate of  compulsory elementary school is in any case, to do whatever it takes that every child acquires the academic basics needed for his or her life in nine years of schooling. This is what is called “equal opportunities” – it’s time that we enforce this genuine social concern in our schools again, rather than abelling the children who are left behind in this individualistic set-up with certain diagnoses and “release” them from achieving all learning objectives.

SOL as preparation for  professional life? No way!

There’s no timetable in the school Seehalde, where we can find the subjects of teaching “No specific subject is on the timetable this morning», so the TV moderator, “but every  student works on his own, just as he must be able to do later as a professional. This is the idea of individualized teaching and self-organized learning, the vision of the headmaster.” The matching image: A student on a sofa, putting his legs high holding his iPad. Exactly as he must do it later in his professional life?
A 15-year-old student: “you can really decide on your own what you want to learn. However, there are a few things that the teacher dictates and which are mandatory. But there’s just a lot of freedom.”4. A teacher: “to see that the students really have fun in learning, that is worth the effort.”5
What does it take then to prepare for professional life? To say what you would just like to do? To do only, what you like? To be able to have a break whenever you want? Life is an everlasting party! Whoever acts out these visions by experimenting with our children, should look for another job. Because he knowingly concedes that the young people who could do at school what ever they wanted to do  more or less, will encounter the harsh realities of professional life when they will be applying during for an apprenticeship. How many of them will fail? Already today, there are more and more young people who prematurely cancel their apprenticeship.    •

1    sources: SRF, Schweiz aktuell,  9.11.2015; Zürcher Unterländer (Local Newspaper), “Parents demonstrate against self-organised learning” 8.11.2015
2    source: SRF, Schweiz aktuell, 6.11.15, “Self-organised learning in Niederhasli ensures displeasure”, www.srf.ch/news/regional/zuerich-schaffhausen/selbstorganisiertes-lernen-in-niederhasli-sorgt-fuer-unmut
3    SRF, Schweiz aktuell, 6.11.2015, “self-organized learning in Niederhasli ensures displeasure”.
4    SRF, Schweiz aktuell, 6.11.2015, “self-organized learning in Niederhasli ensures displeasure”.
5    “The revolution of Niederhasli»” 25.10. 2015 SonntagsZeitung
6    cf. in www.sol-institut.de/

Next Practice instead of Best Practice – the SOL Institute of Ulm

The Consulting Office which advises the school management of the Secondary School Seehalde in Niederhasli in their activities is the SOL Institute of Ulm. According to own statements it maintains a “systemic constructivist understanding of learning“6:
“A systemic constructivist pedagogy doesn’t want to depict knowledge, doesn’t produce a most complete curriculum: education should not know what is good for the students before they participate. Constructivism: What we call knowledge must be built up by children, pupils, students. Knowledge is no longer considered a representation of reality, but any behavior in a world that you cannot accurately describe.“ Did you get it?
“SOL doesn’t optimize the existing (best practice), but carries out a change in process patterns (next practice).“ Thus, learning in school has to include “as much differentiation and individualization as possible, as less synchronization as possible“. For this purpose, the school management has to arrange the learning spaces – “to establish space as 3rd pedagogue“(!) – as well as “professional team work“ and “systemic management“. In plain words: SOL requires a paradigm shift: a minimum of class instruction, authoritarian control of teachers through the Executive Board and their integration in the “system“ – no freedom to choose one‘s own methods for teaching at all!

“Learning means interleaving the perspective and not ‘teaching the learning materials‘“

“You cannot convey people anything due to their self-organization. Teaching is always interaction, an act of interleaving the perspective. A common new world is created through interaction“ In plain English: This means the fundamental abolition of any teaching or even more extremely put: the sharing of human knowledge and experience from one generation to the next – the very basis of human development – will be wiped out with the stroke of a pen. According to the constructivist ideology, the child creates his very own reality, from his own perspective. This type of “Interaction“ communicates only to a lesser extent with one of the teachers who are present, it is largely confined to putting up signs saying “We have a question“, “We need help“, “All right“, “We take a break“. The interaction that is meant here takes place primarily between the child and his iPad.
The “implementation“ of SOL, that is their implementation in schools, is tried out in pilot experiments: “This phase is used to try and gain experience. […] Hence you cannot do anything wrong in development processes, but make decisions and thus gain experience. We will help you!“
In plain language: The Ulm Institute teaches the teachers that they may do experiments in the classroom, sorry, in their open plan office at their whim and gain experience – their guinea pigs being our children!

“Learning phases instead of school subjects“

A main demand of most people‘s cantonal initiatives against the Curriculum 21 is the maintenance of the distinct subjects with clear targets for each term. So, a stop is put to revolutionizing the school in terms of the systemic constructivist ideology.
A look at the homepage of the Ulm SOL Institute explicitly confirms how urgent the initiators‘ demand is: “How does SOL differ from conventional education? For example, in the fact that the timetable will be divided into learning phases and no longer in subjects.“

What an elected member of the government council thinks about his electorate

Christoph Eymann, member of the government council in the canton of Basel-City and President of the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK), made statements in an interview with the German weekly “Die Zeit” that each Swiss will remember. Eymann made sure that the Curriculum 21 was implemented in Basel-Stadt as first Canton in summer 2015.
Answering the remark of “Die Zeit” that he didn’t have to have the curriculum approved by the people, he said:

 
Christoph Eymann: Thankfully not, I must honestly say. The voice of the people must have limits in detailed issues. […] When it comes to curriculums, teaching materials and numbers of lessons per subject, professionals and not a Parliament are required. And certainly not the people. [Highlighting CC]

“Die Zeit”: So parents don’t have to understand the curriculum?

Eymann: They are not the target audience. It’s delicate to say: That’s not the parents’ business.

“Die Zeit”: But so do you mean it?

Eymann: A bit.

How a an elected member of the government council handles teachers’ resistance

“Die Zeit”: I talked to various teachers in Basel with regard to this conversation. They say: We didn’t even have time to organize resistance.

Eymann: We certainly took a toll on them with the pace.