Monday, October 30, 2006

A 'must read' - particularly for secondary teachers!

  Posted by Picasa ‘Catching the Knowledge Wave’ by Jane Gilbert Chief Researcher NZCER.


According to the book's back cover, ‘if this book were a film it would be rated M’ – with a ‘caution that some viewers might be disturbed’ by the ideas.

It ought to be compulsory reading for all teachers, particularly those in the secondary schools, as it challenges many unquestioned assumptions about traditional school structures and mindsets

The ideas underpinning the ‘knowledge society’ are explored leading inevitably to the need to completely transform the role of education for the 21stC.

The book argues that our current system is set up to serve 'industrial age' needs that are no longer relevant. Our 'industrial aged' schools work like a production line, using bells and timetables and academic subjects to sort people out. This, the book argues, is inappropriate as we move into 'knowledge age'. Society, Gilbert informs us, is going through major paradigm shift similar to the printing press led renaissance – today modern information technology is sparking the new creativity.

Future citizens, she believes, will need more than basic literacy and numeracy .Everyone will need 'higher order thinking skills' and the ability to go on learning all their lives. But, Gilbert argues, knowledge is still important criticizing those who suggest that the process of be able to learn is enough in itself.

No longer is their a need for students to memorize knowledge for its own sake; knowledge now has new meaning. The old idea of knowledge as ‘stuff’ to be learnt is being replaced by a new view of knowledge as being more like energy – something that does something; that makes things happen.

Knowledge though is still important. Students, as they create new meanings for themselves, will need to call on 'old knowledge' as 'raw material' to create new ideas.

Students, in the future, need to be judged by what they can do, perform, or demonstrate, not by what they can recall.

The ‘one size fits all’ industrial aged school educating individuals is no longer appropriate. Diversity is now the norm and students in the future will learn differently to create meaning - often in concert with others. Students will have to know who they are, where they come from, ther strengths, and how they can contribute . Identity, like knowledge, is a verb not a noun, Gilbert writes; always ‘in process’ never finished.

To educate all students we need more flexible, non linear learning systems.This will be a challenge to our current system and will not be achieved by 'tinkering' with the current system – a paradigm shift is needed.

Gilbert believes that the present system is not able to facilitate the transition to students as active meaning makers.

She offers a few guidelines about what teachers could do now (ideas that a few innovative secondary and many primary schools are already implementing):

Teachers could work together in interdisciplinary teams allowing them to combine their strengths (and compensate for their weaknesses) and plan integrated units of work based on real life situations.

They could think of ways to organize their timetables so that cross disciplinary teams of teachers could work together.

They could develop their (and their students) group working skills for sustained periods on specific projects.

They could develop projects designed to engage students in research or other real world activities.

They could integrate information technology as and when needed.

They could develop data bases of community contacts/partnerships that could help them in their work.

They could focus on helping students develop 'meta understanding' of the various curriculum areas – the ‘essences’ of each subject as a way of knowing. Students need to see themselves as: scientists , mathematicians , geographers, historians and artists, and they need to combine elements from the ‘old knowledge' in new ways to make new connections.

Together these would radically transform schools and create them as 'learning, or living', organizations that would permit them to continually evolve, experiment, evaluate and change.

For students these changes would provide them with the opportunities to develop the talents and competencies that they will need in their future lives.

The current industrial secondary school model is under considerable stress. Students no longer want the knowledge and skills that they were set up to provide. And as well society can no longer accept the number of school failures, disruptive or alienated students.

We need replace the ‘one size fits all’ model with new schools able to 'design' educational programmes 'personalized' to fit the individual needs of every student.

‘Only when developments in our education system are underpinned with new mental model, will we be moving our schools into the knowledge age.’ Jane Gilbert

Surely we have schools and teachers up to take up the challenge?

I couldn’t recommend the book more highly.


Anonymous said...

This all sounds very sensible but I can never get over how upwardly mobile parents, who aways want the best of any new technology and any trendy fashion items, still rush to get their children into the most traditional ( 'Industrial Aged') schools - it must be those upper class genes or silver spoons at work?

Anonymous said...

Here is a snippet from Bob Sprankle
I’ve been showing my 3rd and 4th graders a picture from the early 1900s of men working in a factory. I’m using it to compare and contrast with what jobs of the future might be like (more on that later when I describe my final project). What startled me was that in several different classes, when I asked students to tell what they thought the picture was of, the answer was a school. Now… why would a picture of an early 20th Century factory evoke the feeling of school for early 21st Century students?

Read the rest of his thoughts at

Add him to your bloglines Bruce!
Regards, Jody

Anonymous said...

I like your optimism but traditional secondary schools will never change - make that all but a few courageous ones - or schools with nothing to lose!

Best for an innovative government to establish new talent based schools

Bruce said...

I had a look at your 'Bob Sprankle' Jody - an interesting site and blog.

Schools were originally designed along factory lines but in the early days of the Industrial Revolution factories were seen as great places - freeing people from poverty.

Industries have changed their cultures to reflect (post)modern thinking but secondary schools remain resistant and are, ironically, admired by many parents.

Anonymous said...

Schools and the knowledge wave - don't seem to go together? They would rather paddle than risk surfing!