Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Radical ideas from Bill Gates

America's High Schools are obselete. Posted by Hello

I thought I would share some comments from Bill Gates’ latest speech (26/2/05) on high school education, presented to a High School Summit Conference, if only to show I am not alone in my thoughts. Although they relate to the American system they are relevant New Zealand secondary education.

Bill and his wife Melinda have established a foundation to improve educational equity in the USA .The foundation vision is to assist schools to help students from the toughest backgrounds with the belief that, ‘education is the best possible path for promoting equity and improving lives.’ After looking at the data re school failure they came to, 'the painful conclusion: America’s high schools are obsolete….even when they work exactly as designed (they) cannot teach our kids all they need to know.’

Relying on current high schools of today is like ‘trying to teach today’s kids about today’s computers on a 50 year old mainframe. It is the wrong tool for the times.’

‘Our high schools were designed fifty years ago to meet the needs of another age. Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21stC, we will keep limiting - even ruining -the lives of millions of Americans every year.’ ‘Today only one third of our students graduate from high schools ready for work, college or citizenship’…..’ This isn’t an accident or a flaw in the system; it is the system.’

Gates is happy to acknowledge excellent school and dedicated teachers, saying that the best American students are the best in the world but for the students of the poor and from minority cultures there is a real achievement gap.

Sounds a similar scenario to New Zealand.

Discussing low income and minority students Gates’ comments that, ‘Either we think they cannot learn, or we think they are not worth teaching. The first argument is wrong; the second morally wrong.’ As a nation America, he says, ‘ought to be ashamed’; and so should we in New Zealand where we still fail 30% of out students.

‘We better do better’ he says (more students are currently graduating both in India and China) as school failure is hurting America both economically and morally. The future of failing students is bleak and although everyone agrees it is tragic, people act as if it can’t be helped. Gates believes, ‘It can be helped. We designed our schools. We can redesign them.’ The key problem he believes is lack of political will. Those in government and in charge of our schools have, not done away with the ideas that underlie the old design.’

‘The ideas behind the new design are that all students can do rigorous work- for their own sake and ours, they have to.’ New schools need to be based on principles that can be applied anywhere –‘the new Three Rs’.

1 Rigor – all students need a challenging curriculum
2 Relevance – courses and projects that relate to their lives.
3 Relationships – kids need adults who know them, look out for them, and push them to achieve.

These are easier to promote in smaller schools he says, ‘where students feel safer, are more motivated and are less likely to fall through the cracks.’

What is needed a diversity of choice and the Gates Foundation supports over 1500 high schools. The Met Schools of New York are supported by the Foundation.

Schools, the Foundation believes, need to ‘be held accountable for failing students and work hard to create environments that make learning attractive.’

‘Every kid can graduate. Every kid should have a chance. Let’s re-design schools to make it happen.’

I couldn’t’ agree more.

We need a summit meeting in New Zealand to re-design a new system of education designed specifically for the challenges the future hold.

If we want to be a creative county we need to tap into the talents of all our students.

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