This is not about people in the system but the system itself.
It is difficult to know how the current controversies, the numerous proposed changes in the way education is organised in NSW and Australia, will impact on the next generation of children. A national curriculum, new funding arrangements for schools, the impact of technology on learning, state v federal agenda, proposed new operating paradigms for state schools and the very nature of schooling itself all jostle in a highly politicised (and unstable) landscape.
It concerns me that so little of the conversation is about the realities of teaching and learning in classrooms or how our changed societal paradigms need to be reflected in the ways we educate the young (and all our citizens). Students will still file into examination halls to do pen and paper tests. Most students in our schools will not have a personal device that connects to the internet. Old fashioned, often out-of-date school reports will be sent home each semester. We measure and collect data to be used in the most dubious of ways and our system appears, to many, to be reproducing disadvantage rather than providing genuinely egalitarian opportunity to the many.
There have been many discussions at school and online recently where I find myself playing devil’s advocate, in a range of very different contexts, more in order to stretch my own increasingly uncertain thinking about these challenges for educators, than through any certainty of what is the correct course of action. Yeats’ lines:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity
come quickly to mind as the ground beneath our feet is very unknowable and likely to change rapidly. Do changes, whatever they may be, merely mean more of the scourge of managerialism, that John Ralston Saul articulated in the mid-90s and in a later defence of public education? Or, will genuine innovation be possible in a potential environment of performance pay and high stakes testing?
My last post asks people to imagine what they would do in the field of education if they could start from scratch. How could schooling, or to my way of thinking, learning, be re-imagined? I asked, ‘what is the aim of the system’?
Here’s my most concise answer:
- extend our civil society and strengthen democracy
- enable our young citizens to learn how to learn
Students need to be highly critically literate, technologically capable, life-long learners with environmental understanding and scientific savvy if these aims are to be achieved. We can tinker with funding and who manages various outputs in any system but without a cohesive narrative, of what all of us, in every part of the system, are aiming to do, it is difficult to imagine genuine progress being made. Currently, many feel, there is a great deal of highly politicised tinkering but not much direction.
My two points seems simple but show me where they are being espoused and held up as of fundamental importance? Does not everything we do in education flow from these two aims? How important is nurturing democracy? How essential is really valuing learning how to learn (and the personalised nature of such a focus) over content?
What should be the aims of our system?