Traditional education, also known as back-to-basics, conventional education or customary education, refers to long-established customs found in schools that society has traditionally deemed appropriate. Some forms of education reform promote the adoption of progressive education practices, a more holistic approach which focuses on individual students' needs and self-expression. In the eyes of reformers, traditional teacher-centered methods focused on rote learning and memorization must be abandoned in favor of student-centered and task-based approaches to learning. However, many parents and conservative citizens are concerned with the maintenance of objective educational standards based on testing, which favors a more traditional approach.
Depending on the context, the opposite of traditional education may be progressive education, modern education (the education approaches based on developmental psychology), or alternative education.
The definition of traditional education varies greatly with geography and by historical period.
The chief business of traditional education is to transmit to a next generation those skills, facts, and standards of moral and social conduct that adults deem to be necessary for the next generation's material and social success. As beneficiaries of this scheme, which educational progressivist John Dewey described as being "imposed from above and from outside", the students are expected to docilely and obediently receive and believe these fixed answers. Teachers are the instruments by which this knowledge is communicated and these standards of behavior are enforced.
Historically, the primary educational technique of traditional education was simple oral recitation: In a typical approach, students sat quietly at their places and listened to one student after another recite his or her lesson, until each had been called upon. The teacher's primary activity was assigning and listening to these recitations; students studied and memorized the assignments at home. A test or oral examination might be given at the end of a unit, and the process, which was called "assignment-study-recitation-test", was repeated. In addition to its overemphasis on verbal answers, reliance on rote memorization (memorization with no effort at understanding the meaning), and disconnected, unrelated assignments, it was also an extremely inefficient use of students' and teachers' time. This traditional approach also insisted that all students be taught the same materials at the same point; students that did not learn quickly enough failed, rather than being allowed to succeed at their natural speeds. This approach, which had been imported from Europe, dominated American education until the end of the 19th century, when the education reform movement imported progressive education techniques from Europe.
Traditional education is associated with much stronger elements of coercion than seems acceptable now in most cultures. It has sometimes included: the use of corporal punishment to maintain classroom discipline or punish errors; inculcating the dominant religion and language; separating students according to gender, race, and social class, as well as teaching different subjects to girls and boys. In terms of curriculum there was and still is a high level of attention paid to time-honoured academic knowledge.
In the present it varies enormously from culture to culture, but still tends to be characterised by a much higher level of coercion than alternative education. Traditional schooling in Britain and its possessions and former colonies tends to follow the English Public School style of strictly enforced uniforms and a militaristic style of discipline. This can be contrasted with South African, USA and Australian schools, which can have a much higher tolerance for spontaneous student-to-teacher communication.
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|Topic||Traditional approach||Alternate approaches|
|Person||Teacher-centred instruction:||Student-centred instruction:|
|Classroom||Students matched by age, and possibly also by ability. All students in a classroom are taught the same material.||Students dynamically grouped by interest or ability for each project or subject, with the possibility of different groups each hour of the day. Multi-age classrooms or open classrooms.|
|Teaching methods||Traditional education emphasizes:||Progressive education emphasizes:
|Materials||Instruction based on textbooks, lectures, and individual written assignments||Project-based instruction using any available resource including Internet, library and outside experts|
|Subjects||Individual, independent subjects.
Little connection between topics
|Integrated, interdisciplinary subjects or theme-based units, such as reading a story about cooking a meal and calculating the cost of the food.|
|Social aspects||Little or no attention to social development.
Focus on independent learning. Socializing largely discouraged except for extracurricular activities and teamwork-based projects.
|Significant attention to social development, including teamwork, interpersonal relationships, and self-awareness.|
Students choose (or are steered towards) different kinds of classes according to their perceived abilities or career plans. Decisions made early in education may preclude changes later, as a student on a vo-tech track may not have completed necessary prerequisite classes to switch to a university-preparation program.
|Student and teacher relationship||Students often address teachers formally by their last names. The teacher is considered a respected role model in the community. Students should obey the teacher. Proper behavior for the university or professional work community is emphasized.||In alternative schools, students may be allowed to call teachers by their first names. Students and teachers may work together as collaborators.|
|Topic||Traditional approach||Alternate approaches|
|Communicating with parents||A few numbers, letters, or words are used to summarize overall achievement in each class. Marks may be assigned according to objective individual performance (usually the number of correct answers) or compared to other students (best students get the best grades, worst students get poor grades).
A passing grade may or may not signify mastery: a failing student may know the material but not complete homework assignments, and a passing student may turn in all homework but still not understand the material.
|Many possible forms of communicating achievements:
|Expectations||Students will graduate with different grades. Some students will fail due to poor performance based on a lack of understanding or incomplete assignments.||All students need to achieve a basic level of education, even if this means spending extra years in school.|
|Grade inflation/deflation||Achievement based on performance compared to a reasonably stable, probably informal standard which is highly similar to what previous students experienced.||The value of any given mark is often hard to standardize in alternative grading schemes. Comparison of students in different classes may be difficult or impossible.|
|Topic||Traditional approach||Alternate approaches|
|Science||Fact-based science: Science class is an opportunity to transmit concrete knowledge and specific vocabulary from the teacher (or textbook) to the students. Students focus on memorizing what they are told. "Experiments" follow cookbook-style procedures to produce the expected results.||With Inquiry-based Science a student might be asked to devise an experiment to demonstrate that the earth orbits the sun. The emphasis changes from memorizing information that was learned through a scientific method to actually using the scientific method of discovery.|
|Language learning||Phonics: The focus is on explicit training in sound to letter correspondence rules and the mechanics of decoding individual words. Students initially focus on phonics subskills and reading simplified decodable texts. When they have mastered a sufficient number of rules, they are allowed to read freely and extensively. (In many languages, such as French, Spanish and Greek, phonics is taught in the context of reading simple open syllables.)||With whole language the child is exposed to rich, relevant language that can heighten motivation to read. Learning to read is assumed to be as natural as learning to speak, so students are not formally taught sound to letter correspondences, but assumed to infer them on their own. (Note that this issue is limited to languages such as English and French with complex phonetics and spelling rules. Instruction in countries with languages such as Spanish and Greek, which have relatively simple phonetic spelling, still depends mainly on phonics.)|
Criticism of the concept of teaching in traditional education
Traditional education focuses on teaching, not learning. Critics argue that traditional education incorrectly assumes that for every ounce of teaching there is an ounce of learning by those who are taught. However, most of what we learn before, during, and after attending schools is learned without it being taught to us. A child learns such fundamental things as how to walk, talk, eat, dress, and so on without being taught these things. Adults learn most of what they use at work or at leisure while at work or leisure. Critics argue that most of what is taught in classroom settings is forgotten, and much of what is remembered is irrelevant.
- Classical education movement, which emphasizes Western Civilization
- List of abandoned education methods
- Beck, Robert H. (2009). The Three R's Plus: What Today's Schools are Trying to Do and Why. U of Minnesota Press. pp. 3–6. ISBN 978-0-8166-6017-9.
- Dewey, John (1938). Experience and education. Kappa Delta Pi. pp. 1–5. ISBN 978-0-912099-35-4.
- "A Paradigm Shift". Montessori-namta.org. Retrieved 2011-10-04.
- "CanTeach - Traditional Education". Canteach.ca. Retrieved 2011-10-04.
- E.g., see Investigations series
- Russell L. Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg (2008), Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track (pdf) HTML. Retrieved October 16, 2009.
- Greenberg, H. (1987), "The Silent Factor," The Sudbury Valley School Experience. Retrieved October 16, 2009.
- Greenberg, H. (1987), "The Art of Doing Nothing," The Sudbury Valley School Experience. Retrieved October 16, 2009.
- Mitra, S. (2007) Sugata Mitra shows how kids teach themselves (video – 20:59). Retrieved October 16, 2009.