Thursday, February 24, 2005
'Our Secondary Schools Don't Work Anymore'
Author : David Hood
Educationalist Michael Fullan once wrote ‘that there is nothing like a hopeless cause’. I guess all revolutionaries, or people dedicated to change, must know the feeling but they still keep up the fight. Sometimes there is nothing rational about human behavior and over the centuries many good people have sacrificed their lives for the benefit of those that follow.
It does seems a hopeless cause to re-imagine or reinvent an education system for the 21stC?
David Hood wrote his book ‘our Secondary Schools Don’t Work Anymore’ after 35 year in education. In these 35 years there have been dramatic changes in world history as the world has changed from an Industrial Age into an Information Era. Knowledge is the new capital of the new century replacing coal, oil and human labour. It is important to appreciate it is not just about knowledge but more about talent, wisdom, ideas and initiative.
We would expect schools to have changed dramatically in this time. Almost everything else has. Primary schools may well have changed in this period but secondary schools still remain monuments to the factory era from where they had their genesis; mass production /mass education.
If a doctor from the early 1900s were to be placed in a hospital theatre today he ( it would be a male) would be completely useless and confused but a teacher from a similar era would be at home in many secondary classes. Such a teacher would still find timetables, bells, age separated classes, isolated subjects and top down 'do as you are told' leadership. Even the uniforms would be similar! Caning students would be out of course – some ideas have been accepted.
It doesn’t have to be like this. David Hood says there is nothing natural or given about ways schools are organized. Schools are historical products of earlier times, designed for a world that no longer exists. Even with new assessment systems in place it is still essentially about sorting people into ‘winner and losers’ and today we still fail about 30% of all students.
Ironically we now know enough about how people learn that no one need fail, but only if we changed our minds first. The trouble is schools are bound by tradition and a conservative parent body that are apprehensive about any changes. Politicians, being essentially pragmatic and poll driven, are in no position to make real changes and prefer to tinker around the edges leaving basic old fashioned structures in place. All the current reform efforts have ignored the real issues, up until the last year or two, of how students learn and how teachers teach.
As a result the old fashioned schools are increasingly dysfunctional.
What we need is a courageous government to develop a national ‘conversation’ about the shape and form of education for a knowledge era. Courageous because it would mean really questioning current educational provision but little will change until the public appreciate the real urgency of the challenge.
There are no shortage of innovative idea and creative teachers to call upon if politicians took the lead.
It still seems like a hopeless cause to me but, as Fullan said, there is nothing as powerful as a hopeless cause. David Hood’s book was largely ignored but the time will come.