Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Fundamental shift in Education

It is amazing how a new consensus can be realized by those who administer education that strikes creative teachers as common sense.

Suddenly those at the top, it seems, understand what really matters –that the most important factor in a child’s learning is the quality of the individual teacher, that high expectations are important as is involving the student’s family.

I guess it isn’t so strange when you consider that those at the top have been too busy imposing technocratic curriculums for the past 15 or so years, that relate to now a discredited market forces ideology, to see the wood for the trees.

What has been ‘rediscovered’ is ‘personalized learning’.

These are now becoming the ‘buzz words’ for our new Minister of Education Steve Maharey. Not that I disagree with him, far from it, I am enthusiastic, but lets not think it is anything new.

The Minister expanded ‘his’ ideas about the idea about personalized learning at the NZ Primary Principals Conference earlier this month saying that he believes, ‘it captures everything we’re trying to do in education at the present time’.

As the Minister said, however, it relates back to the ideas of John Dewey who saw education integrated into students lives and not, as Maharey continued, a ‘one size fits all’ ‘chalk and talk' approach. The ideas of people like John Dewey never made it up into the secondary system which was more concerned with what the Minister called ‘social sifting’. Our secondary system owes more to the mass production factory mentality of Henry Ford!

The best writing on the topic is coming from the UK and Maharey quoting their former secretary of education said personalized learning , ‘means shaping the teaching around the way different youngsters learn; it means taking care to nurture the unique talents of every student.’ It is about fitting the curriculum to the needs of the learner rather than fitting the students to the curriculum.

The Minister indicated this shift will be supported by the yet to be released revised simplified NZ Curriculum which will focus on: effective teaching, strengthening school leadership, and allow greater local ownership of the curriculum.

To me it is one ‘giant step to the left’ – or to the past; ‘Deju vu’, but it will allow schools the opportunity to become future rather than compliance orientated.

If there is a concern it is in the area of assessment which, although the Minister prefaced by a need to ensure all students understand their strength and weaknesses, could easily be 'bogged down' in the collection and interpretation of endless 'evidence' resulting in not being able 'to see the wood for the trees'. The Minister mentions requiring information about student’s progress in the essential learning areas, and gathering and analyzing data about student achievement, and the need to disaggregate student data; and all this on top of a current obsession with literacy and numeracy data above the more important concept I prefer ‘learnacy’!

While I am all in favour of ensuring students learn I would’ve thought information about their attitudes and strategies ( ‘key competencies’) would be more relevant along with information about the talents the students are developing – and this is best seen by what students can do, communicate, present, sing, perform and demonstrate

This spiritless obsession with endless data and analysis is not the approach of creative teachers (or scientists or artists) who work along amore enlightened trial and error approach, continually revising and extending their ideas.

Let’s assess what is important and be selective about it. Teachers have only so much time and energy and it would be a shame to waste it on endless analysis.

However you look at it, as the Minister says, the move towards personalized education is a fundamental shift in education. In a previous speech the Minister did relate it to the unrealized vision of Dr Beeby and Peter Fraser of the late 1930s. Those who taught in the late 60 and the 70s will also recognize the underlying philosophy.

The Minister is talking about creating a ‘high trust low compliance’ environment that will allow communities and schools to take a leadership role in developing learning chalenges to ensure all students gain success.

The Minister claims he has, ‘been challenging the education system – teachers, principals and others- to bring about changes’.

You have to ask who has been responsible for taking us in the wrong direction, creating the low trust high compliance environment? Certainly not the teachers, schools and BOTs who have been exhausted trying to keep up with all the compliance requirements of the past decades!

The Minister aslo needs to challenge the politicians and the bureaucrats – it has been their ‘mindsets’ that have impinged on the creativity of schools and in turn produced school and student failure.

And he should nave listened to the 'voices' of the many ‘critics’, and the creative teachers that have been ignored the past years.

But at least we are back heading in the right direction – hopefully.

The Minister might only have three years!

I for one am prepared to do what I can to assist! It is great being able to support the Minister, and the Ministry, for a change!


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Minister bi-passed his advisers and saw the system with fresh eyes? It wouldn't take much insight to see that 'our' current system is the real problem!

Anonymous said...

The Minister will have to get rid of the Henry Ford mentality before he can personalize learning.

All that measurement stuff is of no use if there is no 'wow' factor! And what you measure takes your eye off other equally important things - like does each learner have a positive learning identity? As they say it is not the targets you hit that count it's the ones you never saw!

Bruce Hammonds said...

The 'Henry Ford' mentality in its day was a radical idea but innovative companies have long since left it behind. They had to to be profitable. Unfortuately secondary schools are still modelled on such an outdated 'one size fits all - you can any colour as long as it is black' thinking. There are a few secondary schools doing their best to develop new models - our Minister is encouraging such schools.