Monday, May 16, 2011

The Right to Learn - an agenda for the 21stC; challenging the status quo.


Jackson Pollock's paintings preempted the messiness of the future and could be seen as a metaphor for the interconnected Internet. The school's role is to ensure all students leave school with the attributes to thrive in such an ambiguous, exciting and challenging future. Current traditional education is equipped for slower times when knowledge was to be found in teachers heads and textbooks to be transmitted to students. Now learning is anywhere ,anytime; 'just in time' not 'just in case' - it is all about life long learning.

One of the best resources I have seen is the Right to Learn Report the result of conversations held between a powerful collection of individuals at the Big Ideas Global Summit held in 2010. Download it for your self -about 20 pages.

I have not been that enthusiastic about the use of computers in schools as I have rarely seen them well used - oversold and under used - but they still hold the power to transform schools as we know them. They have the power to subvert and challenge the status quo and to unleash a deeper more rigorous education.

As we enter the second decade of the 'new' millennium what has changed in education? Not much.We can do a lot better. What is needed are fresh perspectives.So far reforms have not changed the basic assumptions of traditional schooling. A new vision is required. We need, the report states, to let go of what has gone on before and think of how to use technology to re-imagine the experience for learners.

New Conversations are required.

The authors believe 'the current school focus is not right' saying it is 'more about delivery rather than empowerment and opportunity'. Schools have aligned computers with what they currently do rather than use their power to re-imaging and re-define schooling. Students do not need a 'right to education' but rather a 'right to learn' - and this learning is not new it is something that is set in motion at their time of birth.

The report is not asking for the chaos of students doing what they like, as in the 60s, believing real rigorous learning require nurturing and the wisdom and guidance of great teachers who, from the time of Socrates, anchored thinking back to the learner. Not 'delivering' content but 'empowering' learners.

Traditional education, they believe, has reached the limits of its capacity; cracks are starting to show with the rise of disengaged and alienated students. What is required is a educational 'renaissance' requiring a completely different perspective.

Alternatives are emerging where schools are helping individual students set their own learning pathways and personal learning goals. These developments are the antithesis of 'one size fits all' education; so far schools are scratching the surface. And, to date, computers have been fitted into traditional schooling and the results are disappointing. What is required is to dramatically change the way in which teachers teach and children learn - technology will be the key to this transformation.Technology makes personalisation of learning, and child-centred learning, ideals of earlier days, possible.

Technology provides the opportunity to 'leapfrog' into the future. The report states, ' we need to recognise and explore without fear the new world and, in many ways, more profound pedagogical opportunities the virtual space opens; opportunities that will challenge and undermine our traditional perspectives around effective teaching and learning'. We are beginning to challenge the idea that all learning happens in schools; schools are only 20% of students waking hours. Out of school learning is rarely recognised even trivialised. All this will change. As will the idea that learning is about content. The learning process will become equally, if not more, important driven by students interests, talents and passions.

Technology places learning in the hands of the students; the emphasis is more who controls the learning than about content.'It is about learners learning through the lens of topics and issues that are of interest, relevant and purposeful to them; it about constructing knowledge; it's about connecting to an unlimited resources of people, ideas,and conversations that give all learners unique insight; insights that underpin deeper understandings about the world, and how they might act collectively to influence their world and their lives...it's about acknowledging a learner's' innate drive to learn.'

It all sounds like the essence of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum and light years away from National Standards!

The key lies not in learning being 'delivered', assessed, and tested, but all about student empowerment - all about who controls the learning, who determines what, when, and how the learning takes place. It is all about students constructing their own learning , or as it says in the New Zealand Curriculum ,every student 'seeking using and creating their own knowledge'. It is all about the competencies students will need to continue on their life long learning journey .

It is about ensuring students take more responsibility their own learning - about students being responsible for their own choices. And it requires the changing of the perspectives of teachers. It is about students leading the learning while teachers mentor, acting as learning coaches provoking insights, challenging thinking , questioning students views, and authentically monitoring progress.

And it is all about proper collaboration not what currently passes as teacher determined group work. It is about students together constructing their own knowledge ; knowledge that is not possible to predict before hand; knowledge that unfolds as part of the process; knowledge 'owned' by all. Such learning requires 'greater sophistication around what might be called collaboration literacies'.

Teachers need to help students identify their talents, their passions and then to structure their schools accordingly. And it is not letting students do whatever they like rather it is about ensuring students pursue their interests and talents in depth. Teachers need to help students identify possible future career aspirations that match their talents.

Technology allows students to reach beyond first hand experiences and, in the process, contribute to the development of an authentic love of learning for all students. To do this schools need ensure students see purpose, relevance and meaning in all they do It also means teachers need to value students' prior ideas, skills, questions and then to provide appropriate feedback and assistance as required.

And teachers need to provide a wide audience for the results of their students learning to be demonstrated, and this is best achieved by seeing the results of real life tasks.

Providing the right to learn is the ultimate future obligation and through technology we now have the means to provide an extraordinary diversity of opportunities for our equally diverse students.


The report appreciates that it won't be easy. Transforming traditional education will require a tremendous amount of conscious effort and courageous leadership. People will have to be helped to see anew.

The report concludes:'At birth there is a clear path and boundless arena in which to learn.Yet this path is littered with obstacles....we find ourselves in the bind of having to be constantly fixing when we could be building. We spend great time and money repairing a system based on delivery and 'fix-it' model rather than on a buid and grow model.

Those interested in authentic educational change, and not tinkering ( or heading back to a failed past with National Standards), need to read the full document.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Never thought I would see the day when you were enthusiastic about computers Bruce but I can see why you enjoyed the Right To Learn Report - it sounds well worth downloading.

Bruce said...

It is not so much the technology but that the technology is so disruptive that it will dramatically change the hold of the status quo - I am thinking about schooling in the years from 12 to 18 in particular.

Up until now technology has been used to support the status quo but this will change. Teachers no longer 'own' the content. How to use the flood of information is the new priority to avoid 'cut and paste' thinking.

Most so called inquiry results in this shallow thinking - information literacy learning is not transferred to research studies. As a result much that goes under the nae of research is anything but.

The whole report needs to be read and discussed by all. It main points were:

1 The need to identify a new perspective ( not so new for creative teachers).
2 The need to re frame the conversation to develop the above.
3 The value of identifying and building on students' passions and talents
4 The need to shift the locus of assessment control
4The priority to refocus teacher preparation.

I still believe real life problems from the immediate context vital but can see that computer would be valuable to find and to express ideas.

Essentially the report expresses the essence for the 2007 NZC - students as 'seekers, users, and creators of the own knowledge',

Allan Alach said...

This is a really good interpretation of the document, Bruce. I've always stressed that technology is no more than a learning tool, sitting alongside, and not replacing, the 'traditional' tools. I'm encouraging teachers to read the "Right to Learn" document, in conjunction with this article.

Bruce said...

Thanks Allan for passing on the Right To Learn link on to me the first place.

When I visit classrooms I look for two things in particular - one is to read the material resulting from the current study to see if it is real inquiry that includes a mix of student 'voice' and ideas confronted. I see very little real research - the literacy programe does not transfer. It is mostly 'cut and paste'.

Secondly I look to see how all the expensive technology is being used in classrooms. All too often it lies vacant or students are using them in a very 'thin' way - like electronic practice books.

As for white boards - the current 'silver bullet' - all they do is to put back pedagogy a 100 years.

That is why the Right To learn Report was so important.Most schools use technology as an 'add' on not a transformationl tool.