Sunday, April 23, 2006

A More Informed Vision of Education for the 21stC

  Posted by Picasa The draft of the, yet to be released NZ Curriculum, has moved a long way from the ‘mile wide and an inch deep’ almost incomprehensible curriculums based on strands, levels and countless learning objectives, all originally to be taught , assessed and recorded.

While the new document, in its draft form anyway, does provide considerable freedom to school and teachers, it doesn’t really face up to the real issues facing our school system - namely the gap in ‘mindsets’ between primary and secondary teaching and teachers.

This hidden issue results in many students failing to survive the transition beween such different organisations and, for such students, it must be like visiting an unfriendly foreign country – or the way secondary schools are structured, several foreign countries.

There is an urgent need for a debate about what are the differences, why they have arisen and what might be done to solve the problems. Some writers have the issue called the issue the ‘half finished revolution’ referring to the idea that humane and progressive ideas have transformed education for the early years but have not yet had any effect of the more traditionally entrenched secondary schools.

It is the age old issue of progressive ‘child centred’ versus traditional ‘transmission ‘subject centred’ teaching. Creativity and joy of learning versus discipline and rigor, or self indulgent ‘softness’ versus 'minimum security prisons', depending on ones point of view.

What we need to do is to move past these 'either/ or' positions and develop shared beliefs that combine the best of both worlds – 'A More Informed Vision for the 21stC'. This is preferable to half baked calls solve all problems by a simplistic focus on literacy and numeracy - a modern version of 'back to basics'.

Such a synthesis would retain the spontaneity and absorption of the ‘child centred’ approach (the more acceptable word these days is ‘personalization’) and add the rigor and depth of secondary teaching so learners can penetrate their learning experiences deeply.

We want to develop students with an informed human vision – students who develop an involvement in and commitment to developing a better word. This would be in contrast with a growing sense of alienation that we see signs of in early secondary schools and an unhealthy sense of self centred individualism generally.

The main theme we need to be concerned with is developing in each learners sense of responsible autonomy to help them fashion their own lives through making significant choices . This can only be achieved by students experiencing democracy in action through active involvement in ‘rich teal and relevant’ issues.

If the super- ordinate purpose of education is to optimize learner’s capacity to conduct their own learning and to eventually become their own teachers this can only be achieved by working with other students and teachers (now ‘learning advisers’)and by being involved with real tasks. Both process of learning, and selective adult diagnostic feedback, and the 'product' are vitally important.

This takes the debate well away from ‘fuzzy’ primary or ‘deadening’ secondary subject teaching both of which fail too many students. The teachers role is vital to help students over ‘learning bumps’ and to help them develop the resilience to sustain absorption and to achieve well beyond their expectations; in the process, giving students the confidence to try even harder. Relationships between ‘advisers’ and learners are vital if experiences are to be transformed into true understanding.

It is the artistry of the teachers and their understanding of subject matter that are the real issues if students are to be helped to capitalize on their inbuilt need to make meaning.

Learning is never about simple transmission; what students bring to any learning experience, and their individual differences, needs to be valued. Appropriate interventions ( sometimes formal often incidental) are of supreme importance to ensure all students become autonomous learners, thinking their own thoughts, developing their particular set of talents and gifts, and able to make full use of their powers of self expression.

A ‘more informed vision’ would require radical transformation of our schools - particularly secondary schools where student disengagement is growing. There is an urgent need to redesign and enrich the entire learning environment, both culture and structure, if we are to develop 'learning organistionss'to help each student develop their rights - a positive learning identity.

When governments, teachers and schools face up to the need to develop such a ‘more informed vision’, and then have the courage to put it into practice, then the, so called ‘achievement gap’, will disappear.

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Bill said...

I thought the few sentences quoted below sum up what education is all about.
"... the super- ordinate purpose of education is to optimize learner’s capacity to conduct their own learning and to eventually become their own teachers this can only be achieved by working with other students and teachers (now ‘learning advisers’)and by being involved with real tasks."
However, I wonder where the term "learning advisers" has come from. In reality this label should be attributed to the likes of GSE or RTLB. Let's not change the title, "teachers"; just change their attitudes to teaching.!

Bruce said...

Thanks for the feedback Bill. Learning advisers I did put in inverted commas to idicate I thought it a bit 'trendy'. The trouble with 'teacher' is that this is such a general term and it does imply teaching somebody something - 'learning adviser' is more of a mentor or guide helping a person construct their own learning.

Anonymous said...

It always too easy to blame students for their own failure when it is obvious that are forced to attend schools designed for a past mono cultural industrial society. It is the schools that are failing!