Where do the boundaries lie in training and education? For many teachers, drawing the distinction between these disciplines is seemingly very difficult. It poses the same illogicality as does the chicken and egg paradox.
I left a comment on Michele Martin’s recent post where she spoke of the corporate trainer as distinct from the teacher. In doing so I attempted to define the distinction between education, being preparation for life in its many facets, and training, being preparation for routine: a prearranged detailed course of action performed recurrently, as in a standard procedure.
Training is explicit
Back in last century, while training as a teacher I was also completing my education at university. I had signed up to do post-graduate research immediately following the completion of my honours degree and was still writing my PhD thesis when I did teacher training. The distinction between the two institutions, university and teacher training college, was explicit for me.
Routines and practices
University was not unlike senior secondary school in terms of the learning that had to be done. Even in my post-grad years I was acutely aware of the brainwork involved while I grappled with ideas, concepts that were new to me. But teacher training? That was refreshingly different. We learnt routines and practices. We spoke of pedagogies, read about the works of the theorists. It all seemed reasonably straightforward and it was almost effortless for me to see where a lot of what I was trained in could be applied.
What is more, I had no problem with accepting that what I was experiencing was training. There was something light and less cerebral about it, compared to the heavy theory and traction of degree course and research learning. I’m aware that this may just be my perception, but it defined some distinctions that I could later identify when I became a teacher.
Where is the boundary
So what’s the guts? How does one tell the difference between training and education?
In the 70’s, throughout the globe, we were still teaching logarithms to year 11 students in mathematics classes. That meant using log tables, as opposed to manipulating exponents or ‘powers’. In New Zealand, students had to be able to find the logarithm of a number by reading it from a set of tables. They also had to be able to convert back from a logarithm to get a number by using antilogarithm tables. I recall only too vividly the lessons I gave where fifth formers learnt (or didn’t learn) how to use these sets of tables. This was training.
It was a manipulative skill where data was read and transcribed from one paper resource to another, usually with a pencil. The “how to” could be taught to some students in a few minutes and to others over a variably longer period of time. Nearly all my students could learn how to ‘read’ log tables within a few days.
Tricks of the trade
There were certain techniques that I taught, in spirit not unlike the tricks a coach might impart to a tennis player. Simple ones like using a ruler to read across the lines of numbers so that the eye didn’t accidentally jump up or down to the wrong line.
Examination candidates were supplied with sets of mathematical and statistical tables in a booklet where all the pages looked more or less the same. So it was important for a student to be able to read the labels that lay along the headings on the pages so they could check that they were reading from the correct table. This required a certain base education. If students could not identify which table to use, and this was coached in training practice, they had slim hope of performing what was otherwise a relatively simple task.
Falling off a log
When log tables were replaced with calculators, as happened globally toward the end of last century, I had to train students to use quite different routines. Instead of learning to use tables and rulers and all the techniques that went with those, students had to be shown which buttons to press on their calculators. They had to learn what all the little button-symbols meant. Essentially the same degree of training was required with calculators as with log tables though the manual skills required to perform the tasks were quite different. There is no fundamental distinction between their correct numerical outcomes.
pH is powerful
I teach chemistry in the senior school. Year 13 students are required to perform calculations in solution pH. This requires not only the ability to find the logarithm of a number, but also the ability to understand what is meant by a logarithm in terms of it being an index or power. Hydrogen ion concentration is expressed in powers of ten (10) and calculating the pH involves finding the logarithm of this concentration. A chemistry student who has never been introduced to the idea of a logarithm or power is at a distinct and severe disadvantage.
First, they have to learn to be able to find the logarithm of a number using a calculator. They then have to understand and come to grips with the concept of an exponent or power. It is often all too obvious that students find it easier to determine the logarithm of a number than to understand what to do with it once it's obtained.
Education not training
Understanding about powers of ten is not something a student can gain through training. If they are not familiar with the concept, they need educating, not training. The ideas associated with thinking about powers and exponents in relation to logarithms or indices to the base ten have to be understood before a student can perform a sensible calculation with any given data to do with pH.
So concepts imparted to novices tend to fall into the category of education. Most secondary teachers assume (or hope) that their fresher students will have been educated to a level where they can read and write. For most students these skills and knowledge will have taken development years to acquire. During that time the students would have assimilated the associative skills to do with understanding symbols leading to literacy and numeracy, all of which would have been acquired by a deal of conceptual learning, otherwise known as education, most of which is simply taken for granted.
Anyone for tennis?