Sunday, June 18, 2006

21stC: Personalised Learning!

The Minister of Education recently gave what I consider to be an important address about the future of education called from ‘Hope to Reality: Making a Difference for All Learners’.

The full address can be found on the NZ Labour Party website.

In his address Minister Maharey referred back to a past dramatic turning point, the 1939 Peter Frazer vision ; a speech written in part by the then Director of Education Dr Clarence Beeby. This was the beginning of mass education up until the age of 15 for all students – each learner was to receive and education ‘suited to the fullest extent of his powers’. In its day this was seen by many as controversial, particularly business groups, who felt that certain children would not benefit from the opportunity!

By 1980 it had become obvious that this vision was not delivering – especially for Maori, girls, and working class students. This ‘failing system’ was fair game for ‘market forces’ thinking of the 80s which believed schools ought to be more efficient, accountable and competitive. Introduced,under ironically a Labour Government, a 'market forces ideology' turned education into a private commodity rather than a public good; students to be seen as 'customers'; and schools were to compete with each other. The 'free market' was seen as the best way to provide services and contracts were put out to tender for those who won them to ‘deliver’!

Maharey now believes that the ‘high tide of free markets has now passed’ and that the ‘market model made things worse’. Today, he believes that, ‘the Beeby /Fraser vision is still alive and relevant’.

He has to thank creative teachers for keeping the spirit of the vision alive in an ‘audit low trust compliance culture’ ; such teachers, and schools, have been through hard times at the hand of Government authorities.

Discussing, ‘where we need to go from here’, Maharey stated that the Beeby/Fraser, ‘vision did not meet the needs of all learners’ – it was not really, ‘focused on the needs of the individual’. Instead it succeeded in giving students an ‘opportunity’ but it was, ‘delivered in away similar to mass production –standardization, central control, large scale organizational hierarchy.’

‘In other words’, he continues, ‘the student had to fit in with the system. In the light if what we now know such an education was unlikely to meet the needs of many learners, never mind the Maori, the working class and woman.’

The answer he believes ‘lies in another reorientation of the system’ This time, ‘the system will become learner –centered. Our aim now must be to provide personalized learning’.

This he says will, ‘demand a change in our approach’, and that, ‘we need to re-orient the system so that the leaner is at the heart of it’. Personalization is, ‘the approach that Labour is following’.

Concluding Maharey stated:

1. ‘The Beeby/Fraser represents an educational tradition that continues to serve us well’.
2. ‘The market argument is now dead’
3. ‘Placing the learners at the centre of the system (personalization) is as radical a notion as that conceived by Beeby/Fraser’.

‘Transforming our society requires transforming our education system.’ ‘It will require a culture of continuous inquiry, innovation and improvement, risk taking and entrepreneurship. This can only come from the education system.’

This, Maharey states, (and I have to agree) is a, ‘radical vision. If it is to work it will take real leadership.’ Principals, he says, need an, ‘optimistic view of what NZers can achieve, and make a difference for all students.’

‘We stand now at a beginning of a new century seeking to transform our nation. The power of education to drive that transformation is as potent as ever. But it can only exercise that power if education itself is transformed’

It seems we have a vision for our country at last; a just and equitable creative country dependent on the new ‘capital’ of the future – the curiosity, intellectual power and inventiveness of all its citizens – and with education its centre.

And as for ‘personalization of learning’ there are those among us who never lost the dream of it being achieved. Up until recently our politicians have been transfixed by the false promise of ‘market forces’. Maharey’s words offer hope for those who kept the Beeby vision of creative education alive these past decades.

For information on personalization of education.


Anonymous said...

For a 'radical' idea it hasn't seemed to have spread very far yet. It is good to see Maharey distance himself from the 'market forces' era. I wonder if he has the same advisers? Shame for all the creative people that were 'hurt' during this period!

Anonymous said...

Schools need to focus all their energy on developing all students as creative 'can do ' people who leave with a passion to make whatever contribution to society they can.

Raising children's 'achievement' is not the same thing as developing students talents.

Personalising education is the 'way to go' - can't see many secondary schools doing it though!

Anonymous said...

Creativity cannot be taught but it sure can be killed as schools now demonstrate. But creativity can be fostered. Personalisation may be the means to achieve this.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Maharey has the 'grunt' to put his ideas into practice - particularly with year 8 to 10 students in secondary schools.