This post was written for the IBM 100th Anniversary website, Shaping our Future (hit the drop down under the education topic).
The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.
—William Gibson, quoted in The Economist, December 4, 2003
‘The future is here’ and this oft (over) quoted line from the father of cyberpunk accurately relays how Australian children must often feel about their community’s approach to their schooling.
Choose any time of the school day and the majority of Australian children currently sit at desks with no access to the internet. Quite simply, this is an unnacceptable situation that can be remedied quickly, with political and community will.
Most Australians would agree that decisions designed to win short term party political advantage do not create conditions conducive for improving community learning outcomes. In fact, many of these expedient decisions have the very opposite effect, negatively impacting on learning in our schools and the wider community.
Recent ‘action’ designed to improve Australian education focuses on a new national curriculum, funding to improve teacher quality through paying bonuses, websites and standardised testing designed to improve accountability and transparency.
What can we do?
There are some very clear policy actions that can be taken to set the scene for sustainable, sensible future directions in Australian education:
- Ubiquitous wireless access to the internet with each student having a mobile device
- New credentials based on assessment/portfolio rather than pen and paper exams
- Personalised learning for all students in a more flexible, less factory-like environment
- A ‘new’ style of ‘teaching’ that is about ‘learning’ and being a ‘learner’
A radical suggestion, to re-purpose school sites into ‘community’ spaces with completely flexible learning arrangements, that place emphasis on the individual attaining the qualifications needed, is what could evolve if we start to think about ‘learning’ and individual responsibility rather than our current factory-models of education, with all their limitations.
In short, we equate education with schooling and learning is neglected. The abundance of resources available and people to connect with online fundamentally changes the game of learning. More self-directed and personalised learning is achievable due to this abundance.
Informally polling my colleagues reveals they overwhelmingly believe that personalising learning is the BIG IDEA for our immediate future if we are to improve learning for young people. I agree! All policy and funding decisions should be made to enable this idea!
It is essential that young people have community spaces to gather and learn, create and grow. However, we need to rethink many of our education ‘norms’. Advocates of using video game design in education, gamification or Project Based Learning or other progressive models all believe that students need to be transliterate, not just traditionally literate. Cultural literacy, in a wider sense than what ED Hirsch suggests, is also essential, for teachers to stay ‘current’, as well as students (who need a sense of ‘the past’). Who decides what is culturally relevant? I’d suggest we all do rather than a narrow vision from a syllabus/curriculum.
Eat – Sleep – Hydrate
A very simple, yet profoundly important issue which must not be forgotten as we reform, is our community well-being. We must ensure that students are savvy digital citizens but also sleeping, eating sensibly and well-hydrated. It would shock many of our political leaders to see the percentage of students who do not eat breakfast or drink water at all. We often see statistics on teen suicide, mental health issues or family-breakdown but rarely about these basics of existence.
Distributing the future more evenly in an effort to have excellent ‘education systems’ will be less about ‘schooling’ and more about ‘learning’. That means all of us – not just the children!