Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Talent based education; the challenge for 21st C schools - Louise Stoll and Lorna Earl


In the introduction to series of books , Expanding Educational Horizons, published by Mc Graw Hill Open university Press,  the series editors  Louise Stoll and Lorna Earl write what is, to me, the real challenge of educational organisations for the 21stC;

‘The dizzying speed of the modern world puts education at the heart of both personal and community development; its mission is to enable everyone, without exception, to develop all their talents to the full and to realize their creative potential, including responsibility for their own lives and achievement of their personal aims’.
magine a country taking such a statement as their starting point – to achieve such a vision would mean the transformation of the current education system.
An individual school could make the challenge its own vision.
‘Education’, unfortunately’ write Stoll and Earl, ‘doesn’t always keep up with the times. Sometimes it appears to be moving in step with changes; at other times it seems to be in the wrong century.
Years of research around school reform have shown Stoll and Earl that ’tinkering around the edges won’t help educators meet the challenges that children and young people will face the future. Current interventions are having limited effects’.

Interventions such as modern information technology have , as yet , not challenged
the basic assumptions of schools with their genesis in an industrial age that hold on
Back to the 50s
to a transmission of knowledge  approach to often unwilling students. The challenge of realizing the creative potential of all students requires a personalisation of learning rather than a ‘one size fits all’ mentality where differences are accommodated by ability grouping, tracking or streaming. And this applies as much for primary schools as it does for secondary schooling.
Countries , like New Zealand, that focus on National Standards, are looking back to past schooling requirements and, this is worse in countries like the UK, the US and Australia, where national testing is imposed by populist politicians. In such environments, with their focus on literacy and numeracy achievement data, curriculums are narrowed and all too often teachers are forced to teach to the tests for their own survival.

No room then, in such toxic environments, for creativity, talent development or personalisation of learning. And even with such regressive policies ‘the educational achievement’, Stoll and Earl write, ‘between the most and least advantage is still far too wide in many places’. And, it is important to note, this achievement is limited to literacy and numeracy which results in the range of unique talents of students being ignored.

What schools need to be worried about is the need to provide opportunities for students to broaden their knowledge, skills and attitudes so as to have the opportunity to have their innate talents recognised or uncovered. This is the intent of the 2007 NewZealand Curriculum all but side-lined by the imposition of National Standards.
Thomas Armstrong, in his book ‘Awakening Genius’ believes teachers are at risk of losing the importance of the sheer joy of learning new things and writes, ‘I’m
troubled that modern educators have become caught up in the world of standards, curriculum, assessment, discipline management, budgets, policies, and bureaucracy that they have lost the ability to see clearly the simple truth of the joy of learning as the crucial foundation for everything else in learning.’ He continues as educators we want to assist them in finding their inner genius ‘and support them in guiding it into pathways that can lead to personal fulfilment’. Armstrong believes that a focus on developing the genius (talents/interests) would effect the ‘greatest transformation ever seen in our schools.’

What is required’, emphasize Stoll and Earl,’ is a bold and imaginative reorientation’ by all involved of educational purposes, policies and practices.

The editors believe their series provides a forum for thinking about different and more powerful ways to help students take a more proactive role in their own futures and more positive roles for teachers and other adults to best help them by creating learning environments designed in such a way to ensure success for all students by helping them realise the unique talents of each learner.

The authors hope that their series will provide fresh views on things schools take for granted, to challenge current assumptions and provide inspiration for alternative ways; to offer ‘a variety of perspectives of what education could be; not what it has been, or even , is’.
Just looking how time is apportioned to the various learning areas, a look at what is being assessed may be a start, to engage the imagination to look beyond current provisions. There is no suggestion that exposure to in depth knowledge , or literacy and numeracy are no longer important, it is just that they need to be ‘reframed’ so as to ensure all students are given the opportunities to develop their talents. Naturally ‘learning how to learn’ – the full range of inquiry and expressive skills need to be seen as vital to achieve talent based personalised learning. Students’ attitudes, sense of identity and accomplishments need to be seen central in a personalised system.

Books , such as those such as those in this series and many others, encourage readers to look beyond current provisions, to inspire, to motivate, to work with others and to most of all to stimulate deep change and concrete possibilities’.  The authors believe ‘educators need the stimulus of external ideas’. They also need to value and share the ideas of non-conformist teachers who may well have ideas that hold future school actions in their efforts.

Until new transformational thinking is implemented then students (and teachers) will continue to struggle in a system, notwithstanding all the well intentioned tinkering, with its genesis in the wrong century.


For information on the series go to

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