Thursday, September 21, 2006

The key to the future - competencies or passionate learners?

  Posted by Picasa The ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum document places great emphasis on ensuring all students achieve what they call ‘key competencies’ – a clumsy mechanistic phrase in itself originating from a long winded OECD Report.

The competencies, the Ministry says, are generic capabilities needed in particular situations and for everyone to ‘lead a good life’. I have no particular argument with the hardly original competencies they have decided upon - they are all very worthy – managing self, relating to others, participating and contributing, and thinking.

I however have two concerns.

Already the Ministry is working with groups of schools to develop ideas about how to assess these competencies. It will be case of the blind leading the blind – or academics leading the contracted. I can imagine a lot of time and energy being wasted in the task and, in the process, the positive aspects could well be swamped by the attempt. We have been in this assessment dilemma before with the futile attempt to assess the more easily defined learning objectives. The key competencies, or future attributes, cannot be so easily measured – or rather so precisely measured. Why bother - must everything be measured?

My second concern is more important. Are the creative and innovative people that have the potential to change our world in any field, artistic or scientific, examples of citizens who exemplify such competencies? I think not. Such people are idiosyncratic and often lack the niceties that we might like them to have – but they have inventive qualities no society can do without.

A student with all the key competencies might make an ideal compliant citizen but missing might be the individualistic ‘spark’ to make a real difference.

What is missing in the ‘new’ curriculum is an emphasis on developing the talents, passions and interests of all students. I guess these are qualities that don’t fit into the job descriptions of the Wellington technocrats. If we are to be a creative country then such an emphasis ought to be made central to education.

Currently too many students leave school with little to show for their time while others have lost the eagerness to learn that they entered school with; their love of learning dulled by a need to achieve and consume what teachers feel they ought to acquire. The phrase ‘love of learning’, included in an earlier draft, has been excluded in the final document, yet this love, or passion to learn,is what marks out creative people in any field.

Education ought to be about helping a student craft a life not worrying about what they ought to be able to do, or, worse still, focusing on what they can’t do. We need to develop students with ‘laser like intelligences’ rather than dull well rounded individuals who happily fit in with current expectations.

In the future people will find satisfaction by using their specialized talents to develop careers and such people may well have ‘competencies’ that might actually get them into trouble in some schools.

Instead of a deficit paradigm (students being saved by our curriculums) we need to personalize education and develop every individual’s potential mix of talents and skills. If we teach to students strengths it will help students see themselves as individuals and, in the process, help them respect others for their differences.

Even within teacher designed topics students’ particular interests can be recognized and utilized but ideally studies could ‘emerge’ from students own, curiosity, questions and concerns.

If students own interests and strengths were recognized and valued, and if they were helped to extend their strengths, then current problems of engagement and behavior might well become insignificant.

We need to ensure that the special talents (and even some anti social behavior) are not overwhelmed by a desire to ensure all students develop the well rounded competencies that are a feature of the ‘new’ curriculum.

Just think about the people who have made a difference in life – and how many of them found school irrelevant.

Talent developmentshould develop competencies and not the other way around!


Anonymous said...

Exactly my concerns.The Ministry is a talent free zone!

Anonymous said...

Imagine an education system dedicated to realizing the talents of all its students. You couldn't design a better system to crush talent than the schools we currently have.

In a personalized system the curriculum would 'emerge' from the interests of each student - teachers would see themselves as talent scouts, providers of intellectual temptation and expert at assisting students learn how to learn and express themselves.

Anonymous said...

Nothing is real it seems unless you can measure it!

Anonymous said...

Forget the competencies - I am for passionate learners!!

Anonymous said...

The Ministry is full of well meaning highly paid individuals who think they have the expertise to tell teachers what they need to do.

There is nothing in the 'new' document that John Dewey didn't tell us about decades ago - he must be rolling in his grave.

You would think talent development would be the nunber one priority of the Ministry but as someone said in their comment - 'a talent free zone'.

Anonymous said...

Passion rules!

Bruce Hammonds said...

I bet the Ministry will mess up any good in the 'key competency' idea up with efforts to try and have schools measure how well each students achieves them. Measuring a pig never made it fatter; nor did pulling up plants to see if their roots were growing do any good. Still it will provide 'evidence based learning'!