Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Education for the student's future or for our past?

No nothing experts killing learning! Posted by Picasa

It never fails to depress me what ‘experts’ consider to be education.

The most encouraging national system of education I have read about lately was Finland ( see previous blog) but now it is back to reality!

Few countries, according to business guru Peter Drucker, have as yet designed an education system for the 21stC. Finland must be considered as one county that has. And few schools, according to educationalist Michael Fullan, ironically, can be called ‘Learning Organizations’. I do know, however, that there are many schools worldwide that are well on the way to becoming learning organizations based on shared values and beliefs, but that these are exceptions rather than the rule. Even in the most unlikely schools, creative teachers exist, struggling to develop the passions, talents and dreams of their students.

It is to these schools, and creative teachers, that we need to look to for future possibilities and not to the politicians with there vested interests, tame experts, and fear of losing power!

A small country like New Zealand has a a great chance to develop a creative education system if it had the wit, the imagination and the intelligence to do so at the top. But to do this it would need to get rid of the constraints that currently diminish such a possibility. By tapping into ideas from such countries as Finland, by listening to creative teachers and schools , by inviting real educationists to visit , and most of all by having a real conversation with all communities about what they want for all their children, it could be done. There is plenty of wisdom to be tapped and it sure is not limited to those who skulk around the corridors of power.

New Zealand has a well earned reputation for its primary education, even though at election time, conservative politicians can’t wait to blame every society fault on schools. Yet again we hear the failing ideas of, ‘back to basics’, national testing and teacher performance pay as solutions. The countries that we currently follow mindlessly have already tried such things and they can’t even get into the OECD tables themselves!

Pressure to succeed to achieve narrow achievement targets are destroying teacher initiative in the UK and have long destroyed whatever there was in the USA ( except for important non government exceptions). And such soul destroying innovations are slowly doing the same in New Zealand.

We have the best primary teachers in the world. We should celebrate this and tap into and share their wisdom. Once, when I was working in an International school (really an American school), I was struck by a comment by one of the US teachers (with a PhD in Curriculum Design) about a NZ teacher teaching in the class next door. He couldn’t get over how she could do such marvelous work with her students when she didn’t seem to follow the learning objectives of the curriculum guides. New Zealand primary teachers were regarded with genuine awe; they still retained their spontaneity and initiative, valued students 'voices' not the 'dead hand' of the curriculum experts.

Today I received the latest book from the ASCD. A quick glance (an example of ‘thin slicing’) saved me from bothering to read it all. It was an attempt by the writers to help classroom teachers (more 'technicians') to make best use of the standardized curriculums that they all follow in the 'land of the free'!

The American system is firmly locked into an industrial – efficiency model of teaching that relates to ideas introduced in the early years of the 20th C. The ASCD book was another attempt to make this standards system successful – a way to ensure that the ideas devised from afar are applied with efficiency. Talk about making a bad system better; kind of up-dating an inefficient factory model to a technocratic age. George Orwell would have been proud, as would've Ronald McDonald! No room for spontaneity, individuality (of students and teachers) creativity, imagination and alternative points of view. It all seemed a bit like Russia in the 50s. And all this, as we enter an age of speed, choice, unpredictability and creativity – where an individual’s talent and initiative will be a countries number one capital.

While in Finland the ghost of John Dewey would be thrilled.

Meanwhile in New Zealand at the edge of the world (some would say 'the edge of great possibility') we tinker along 'rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic'. The conservative opposition party, in particular, is getting us ready to return to a Victorian Age!

Across the Tasman the agenda of the past is rolling out as an example to avoid (or for some vote hungry politicians to follow). Their Federal Minister, like some educational dinosaur pining for the past, wants all schools to be tested against national benchmarks in Literacy and Numeracy and for results to be published and even posted outside the schools on billboards. Whatever happened to the ‘clever country’ vision?

This follows the failed ideas introduced in the UK and is exactly what the those in Finland have deliberately avoided because they felt such moves, distort teaching, eats up teaching time, narrows the curriculum, destroys collegiality between schools and sharing of ideas, and fails to focus on the attributes and disposition students will need to thrive in the 21stC. Most of all such 'top down technocratic dogma' destroys the professional judgment and creativity of teachers and their communities to design education to suit their own students. All this ‘back to basics’ conformity pushed on schools in the name of the buzzword of ‘accountability’ – but for what - the uncreative country? Education has been turned into a form of competetive consumerism with students being tested on very narrow criteria – very little to do with entrepreneurship! Mind you most entrepreneurs didn’t do well at school.

We all know what happens to people under pressure to perform!

Finland sound better every day!


Anonymous said...

Good stuff as usual but is anybody listening out there?

As the 'market forces' technoctric age loses it's authority, with it's now tattered dogna of TINA ( there is no alternative), there is a need for real conversations to emerge and real leadership needed to lsten.

Your blog is a good start!

Anonymous said...

What you say makes a lot of sense to me. I think some N.Z. schools suffer from the 'I'm all right mate' syndrome, and need to look around a bit- especially some principals.

Bruce said...

They say that fish are last to discover water - teachers are so busy trying to implement failed imposed ideas that they havem't time tio think out the the 'fishbowl' they are in.

As well some schools seem to be focused on creating endless strategy plans, to convince themselves they are achieving their doubtful targets, to really focus on inspiring learning to engage their bored students. All this managerial gobblygook and 'rule by clearfolder' is about as as useful as raindancing and half the fun.

No wonder principals are stressed.Time for some leadership I would think.

Time to get out of the fishtank and head for fresh water!

Anonymous said...

As someone once said - schools are OK if it were 1965!

Anonymous said...

Schools ( particularly for older students ) are still about obedience, control, competition and conformity and not about creativity, collaboration and innovation. They are locked into the wrong century and seem unaware of it!

Anonymous said...

I heard this said ( the 'obedience' and 'control') about schools by Gareth Morgan, the economist, at the Wellington NZ Principal's Conference a few years ago - I remember you being there Bruce.

Bruce said...

You are right about Gareth Morgan -to be honest I wasn't keen to hear him ( my bias) - but in reality his session was very inspirational. I thought he would be critical of progressive aspects of education but he was more concerned about how formal education devalued initiative and creativity. And I enjoyed his sharp humour and his equally funny powerpoint illustrations.