Saturday, July 28, 2007

An opportunity to renew a shared sense of Vision

'There is something wrong with our current system - our students just don't seem to be engaging with the way things are.'! 'Time for a real rethink'?

The Ministry has just sent out, to all schools, a booklet with suggestions to help schools get ready to implement the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum.

The idea is for schools to work with their communities to help them 'develop/and/or revise ( their) schools vision, principles and values.'

All in all it is hardly an inspiring document.

It would be more powerful if a strong case had been made that we really need to think hard about why we need bring our schools into the 21st Century and, in particular, to look closely at the assumptions about learning underpin our current school system system.

What is missing is a sense of urgency!

If this sense of urgency is not developed then , after all is said and done, little will actually change.

The vision that schooling has been premised on, for over a hundred years, is based on the dream of mass education for all students - over the decades the years of compulsory education has risen to 16. Unfortunately schools were never designed to educate all students and, as a result, for far too many students the dream of mass education has become more a nightmare. The thinking was that a few students would need to be sorted out into an academic 'professional' stream while the rest would only need basic skills ( and obedience) to go to work in the industrial age factories is now well past its 'use by date'.

Look closely at the structures still to be found in our secondary schools in particular. The hierarchy of control, bells, timetables, students in aged batches ( many still streamed )and students receiving their learning in 50 minute bites from separate subject teachers and you see 'schools as factories'. The 'academic' students mind find it rewarding but for far too many students with a creative or practical bent, or from a different culture, it is all imposed irrelevance. Add to all this conformity mind numbing assessment procedures and the mechanistic thinking of a factory is all too obvious.

We need new metaphors for education for a new age. An age some are calling 'The Age of Creativity', or the 'Second Renaissance'. It is as if the linear age of the book has been replaced by the multi media information age where education (learning) can happen any where, anytime, from anybody. Schools need to re-imagined and transformed into 'personalised learning communities'.

If this dramatic change from an industrial to a creative era is not considered all the suggested consultation ideas mentioned in the booklet will make little difference. At best incremental changes might happen but this is akin to 'fiddling while Rome burns', or 'shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic! We are now in a similar time to when 'flat earth' thinking was being challenged by 'round earth' ideas - but this time the changes are even more mind changing. A new consciousness is being developed by those who are pushing the barriers to current thinking - and schools should be leading the way rather than clinging to past ideas.

The idea of different future is of course mentioned in the booklet but without any sense of real urgency. Our success as a nation depends on new thinking led by a new vision of education that ensures all the various talents of all students are developed. Terms like 'life long learning' , 'students reaching their potential', and 'competencies for learning', will mean little unless the urgency for transformational change is faced up to.

The trouble is the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum itself does not face up to the real urgency for dramatic change. Key competencies ( itself a mechanistic rem) are seen to be the key to the future rather than educational transformation and a focus on creativity and talent development

Thinking about the frightening, but potentially exciting, changes the future holds is the first step. There are 'shifts' happening out in the wide world that that need to be comprehended before any new vision, or direction, can be thought about.

The introduction of the concept of 'personalised learning', not mentioned in the NZC, if to be achieved will require real changes in mindsets and educational structures. And most importantly courageous leadership to challenge the power of the 'status quo' - our 'one size fits all' system. The importance of developing the creativity and talents of all students needs to give the priority they deserve.

In the booklet it mentions that what happens in education profoundly influences the lives of individuals and the health of whole communities for decades to come. Some would say that our current system has limited the potentialities of to many students.

How to create school as learning communities able to develop the talents and gifts of all students ought to lead the discussions about school visions, along with how can the school get access to the innovative idea of real teachers and, most of all, being open to question everything and to make continual changes.

Unless the dramatic world wide trends currently creating waves of changes and a sense of urgency are appreciated we will just get more of the same; 'old wine in new bottles.

Real vision means having the courage to work towards creating a unimaginable new world not patching up the old.

The Ministry seems reluctant to face up to the need to criticize traditional secondary schools who, with their industrial aged thinking, hold strongly to a past world for their own selfish benefits, and who also block any innovation that might make a difference.

The booklet has an excellent quote from Tom Sergiovanni who says visions cannot be mandated by bureaucratic authority they must be 'forged' as a result of people trying to reach for a higher moral level of understanding and sense of meaning.

This organic evolving search is the basis of all learning.

Only real visionaries can create a future continually emerging world.


Anonymous said...

Vision with ACTION.

Bruce said...

Vision is a word used 'lightly' by people who see it as merely planned change. These people see no risk in vision!

The trouble is that those who have a different vision confront those who just go along improving the 'status quo'. And, all too often, such 'visionaries' pay the price for seeing differently.

A real vision challenges current assumptions, upsets 'normal' thinking and promises a better world for those prepared to let go of the past. Believers need the courage to face the derision of those who cannot see the need for a 'new world view'.

New visions are heretical - they provide a different 'perspective' and, as such, are all too often 'seen' as a threat.

I think it is time for real vision - not tinkering around!

Brian O'C said...

Urgency, urgency, urgency!!!

It is what is needed.

Slow change will not work. We need to make steps forward. Little steps maybe but constantly moving forward. The Ministry's steps are small and confusing and misdirected.

Great message!

Bruce said...

Thanks Brian

I enjoyed reading your own blog and exploring the links.

You are right there is no sense of urgency - just tinkering around.

I have a chance to listen to Ministry speakers next week at a principals conference - I will be listening carefully - or is that skeptically.

Watch this space - or my blogs!