I think this falls under Epistemology.

I was thinking of a new system for teaching children. Here in Canada, children go to nursery, kindergarten, then grades 1-12 to finish basic schooling. Each grade attempts to educate the children new information that builds on knowledge from a previous grade.

The problem is that they may be allowed to move on to subsequent grades, depending on whether failing grades is allowed by the school system. In this way, students move on to subsequent grades just because they stayed in class the whole year, regardless of whether they have acquired/comprehended the information from the grade. Also, when I went to school, it was easy to get bored because I already knew what was being taught, but had to stay in class anyway.

As a base for comparison, each student takes, essentially, one nursery "class", one kindergarten "class", 9 classes for each grade in elementary(grades 1-6), 10 classes for each grade in middle school(grades 7-8), and 8 classes for each grade in high school(grades 9-12); so roughly 108 classes in their primary education lifetime.

The system I thought of, allows students to build on skills they already have, and when they have matured enough to handle courses they have trouble with, they can take it:
- classes are only passed/completed if the student can pass the classes' exam;
- students can take class-completion exams whenever they want;
- students can only take classes if they complete prerequisite classes;
- students may only stop attending classes if they complete the class or drop out;
- every year, a student must fill a minimum of 9 classes
- students graduate by completing all 108 classes

An example of a student who is good at math:
- year 1, which is 9 classes in the current system:
- grade 1 Math( test only )
- grade 2 Math( test only )
- grade 3 Math( test only )
- grade 4 Math( class )
- grade 1 Language Arts( class )
- grade 1 French( class )
- grade 1 Social Studies( class )
- grade 1 Health and Physical Education( class )
- grade 1 Music( class )
- grade 1 Science( class )
- grade 2 Science( class )
- grade 1 Art( class )

This system allows progression based on skill: so what's wrong with it?

  • 2
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about education (and particular educational strategies), not philosophy. – Rex Kerr Apr 7 '14 at 15:09
  • @Rex Kerr Under epistemology: the way in which knowledge is obtained; in which case, I ask, if a meritocratic schooling system would be a con in terms of knowledge acquisition for students. – user2738698 Apr 7 '14 at 15:12
  • 1
    The practice of teaching students is education. The study of the retention of new material is psychology. The theory of how it is that things can be learned is epistemology. This question is some mix of the first two; an epistemological question would be more like "can we say that a student has truly learned what it is to count without an explicit axiomatization of the numbers?" – Rex Kerr Apr 7 '14 at 15:19

As has been said, this is not a philosophical question. However, a few issues off the top of my head:

  • Practically speaking it's massively complicated to timetable such a system.
  • In many subjects it would be very easy to pass a test without having a 'deep' knowledge of the required material, potentially setting a very bad foundation for future study.
  • Much of the value of school is in socialisation; the experience of interacting with a consistent group of people of various skill levels. This is largely lost in your model. Academic development is very different to emotional/social development.
  • Arriving in classes filled with students of a very different age can also make school much less positive for students; they both miss out on normal social development and can face bullying, ostracising and so on.
  • By immediately making obvious the students who aren't succeeding academically from the start, you risk letting them self-identify as failures and losing all faith in their own success. That leads to lack of engagement which makes it harder to catch up (quite apart from being left in classes which probably have more behavioural problems and a consequently worse learning environment).
  • Most school-level learning really isn't that crucial in its details to later life. It's plausibly much more useful for someone to go through several year and learn a little about, for instance, different periods of history, than to be forced to learn about one particular period again and again until they can pass a test on it.
  • Interacting with a consistent group of people of various different ages is also arguably very important for socialization, and we've hardly preserved that at all, so I am not sure "consistent group of people of various skill levels" is all that important. Other points are good ones though. – Rex Kerr Apr 7 '14 at 17:04
  • But adulthood is very different to childhood in that regard; two years' (or even two months) difference in childhood can mean a huge amount of physical and emotional maturity (especially around the years of puberty); being a ten-year-old in a class of thirteen-year-olds is very different to being a twenty-year-old getting used to interacting with forty-year-olds. – dbmag9 Apr 7 '14 at 18:45
  • I'm not sure why except that we expect it to be so. 40 year olds have 20 years of experience more and grew up in a largely different social context. We're expected to take it in stride, though. Whereas 10 and 13 year olds, still with very many overlapping interests and experiences fresh in mind, are expected to be very different from each other. One year olds and four year olds are very different, I will admit. – Rex Kerr Apr 7 '14 at 20:55

I think it is a very good model. It deals well with both kids that may need more time or effort to learn stuff, and kids that can do it much easier. It makes good students lose less times by not forcing them to learn what they already know, or can learn much easier then other. It makes sure that people that didn't, yet, learned important concepts go on and try to learn more complex stuff. It even promoted self teaching. I think those are the main problems with the current teaching systems.

I see, however, a point that one could make. Such a system would introduce children to the notion that some can be/do better than others, and a very early age. Maybe a children that tried a class 2 times, and still couldn't completed it, feels inferior watching his friend do it without even taking the class, just by taking the exams. That is, however, the real world: people have different abilities and skills, and some will do better than others in certain subjects. Children should be taught to use that in their advantage, even as a reason to try harder. I think that's kinda of a necessary evil. Because the current system is seriously holding hard-working people back, and is pushing not-so-hard-working-children forward in a unfair way. One could argue that is not about how hard one works, but thats what should be corrected then: everybody should be able to do hard work. If everybody is, then we may introduce competition early, as that's how the real world is, and that's how it should be: meritocratic. I think it is never too early to be introduced to reality, nor to learn to deal with it.


The "problem" is a practical one: it is hard to organize large groups of children of drastically different ages, due to differing attention spans and interests, with only a small number of adults. Although it is possible for the older children to take some responsibility for the younger, this generally doesn't work in a system with high turnover or where people have years of training that younger children are inferior or not to be associated with.

So I think it's an awesome idea for home-schooling (actually, it's how things tend to work anyway) or for small-group instruction. With a large group there's nothing immoral about it, but you may be unable to find a practical path to a system that works like that. (Keeping in mind that public schooling is presently at least as much about babysitting as learning.)

  • So I guess it is with parent's discretion whether some students should advance huh? I guess if a student is extremely proficient in on class, and has focused on it for a majority of their early years, they could be allowed to catch up on the less invested classes? But, yes, I get what you mean. – user2738698 Apr 7 '14 at 15:10
  • @user2738698 - I think it's not the parents' discretion but the ability of the school to handle the situation that is the limiting factor. For example, my sister skipped only one grade, and teachers weren't really able to keep the biggest of the older kids from bullying her. – Rex Kerr Apr 7 '14 at 15:14
  • Ah, I see, bullying certainly is a problem for this system; I can't think of any way the system can handle bullying like this – user2738698 Apr 7 '14 at 15:32

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