Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Time for some choices?
Creativity or conformity?
Time to leave the corrosive age of accountability and enter a new era of creativity.
We need new minds for a new millennium.
Time for courageous leadership.
Around the world their is a rising tide of disquiet about the distorting results of an over emphasis on the time spent on reading and maths and, as a result, the squeezing out of other equally important aspects of education.
The accountability movement hasn't thankfully reached the oppressive levels in New Zealand as it has in America, the United Kingdom ( with its league tables) and even in our close neighbour Australia.
But a look at our primary schools would show that literacy and numeracy have, as one UK commentator says, ' all but gobbled up the rest of the curriculum'.
The fact of this emphasis on literacy and maths targets has been a narrowing of the curriculum and we are paying price for this narrowing. In countries overseas there have been dramatic cuts in such intellectually rich subjects as social studies, the arts, physical education and even science.
Such a distortion has the effect of not valuing and amplifying the various talents of students in the neglected fields. The very talents we desperately need as a country to thrive in the 21stC.
Our 'new' Zealand Curriculum, which states that we want to see our students as , 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge', gives us a choice to redress the balance.
Currently New Zealand schools, unlike other countries, select their own achievement targets but for all the choice these are , in the main, restricted to literacy and numeracy. And what get measured gets done and takes up the prime time; other areas get pushed to the margins. The so called 'achievement gap' is restricted to reading and maths - if the only game in town is soccer its tough if you are a hockey player! Our New Zealand Curriculum states that every student can learn - something our system so far has never achieved.
Sometimes it seems it is too difficult to simply find the time to do more exiting programmes.
What really matters ought to be the passions, talents, motivation and aptitudes of our students - their openness and excitement for learning. What our 'new' curriculum calls 'key competencies'.
We need to redress the situation by valuing the 'creative spirit' within every learner.
This is the choice our 'new' curriculum offers us. We no longer have to worry about 'coverage' but we need to 'design ' challenges that that provide all students the opportunity to develop their innate competencies and talents. The curriculum, suggests wisely, that we should do fewer things, to do them in depth, and to integrate, where possible, learning areas.
Seeing each student as an individual and then doing our best to help them to be the best they can be ought to be the new emphasis. Some call this emphasis 'personalised learning' as against, 'one size fits all'.
Such a creative emphasis requires equally creative teachers.
Creating the conditions to encourage teacher creativity is the challenge of leadership at all levels. Relationships and trust need to replace compliance and control.
A creative education, where students work collaboratively, develops in students a capacity for empathy and collaborative work as well as self managing skills.
A creative education provides to all students ( not just the academic), by recognising and developing their talents, a sense of direction and purpose in their lives.
A creative education develops flexible thinking and risk taking in students, important elements in an individuals future success.
Such ideas take us well beyond traditional secondary schools with their academic bias and separate subjects and primary schools that have over emphasized literacy and numeracy.
So there are choices of direction to be made.
Our society is going through a time of dramatic change in every area of life and new thinking will be required if our planet is to remain conducive to human life.
A creative education is, in a way, a spiritual one - one of developing personal meaning in life. It is about emphasizing the important values rather than narrow achievement targets. The future is not just about literacy and numeracy ( so important in an industrial age) but it more about 'learnacy'; the love of learning itself.
It is all about connecting people to a larger narrative than their own lives.
Our young people must acquire a 21st century education - one that faces up the reality of our own fragile existance.
But first we, as teachers, must make the right choices.