Saturday, November 04, 2006

Secondary School wins Enterprise Awards

  Posted by Picasa Sometimes I feel a little guilty about criticizing secondary schools.

To be honest it is more the system than the individuals within it that concerns me. As Edward Deming, the revered Management ‘guru’ (who has been credited with the development of the Japanese Quality revolution after WW2) once said, ‘Good people poor system’.

People can also become trapped within the system, not able to see alternatives; it becomes all they know and, when threatened by new ideas, they rush to defend it. The trouble is the system; with its genesis in an Industrial Era can no longer caters for all the students that enter the school gate. And, as well, their students will leave school to enter an ‘Information Age’ workforce requiring ‘competencies (to use the new ‘buzz’ word) that current schools are not able to provide. That is, unless they change dramatically.

All is not lost.

Our local paper featured a photograph of students from one of our secondary schools who had won awards in the Young Enterprises Scheme. This is a scheme where students work together, combining their skills, developing a plan to market a worthwhile innovative product. Such activities provide a real clue about the future shape of education for secondary school students. As well, such an approach is in line with the new requirements of the draft New Zealand Curriculum.

There are a number of other similar real life projects that students get involved with in secondary schools that require collaborative action: smoke free challenges involving music and dance /drama; wearable arts projects; musical and artistic productions; and science and math fair exhibits. Other schools become equally involved in researching environmental or social issues. One school I know of designed, financed, built and decorated a house in co-operation with the local rotary group for a worthy cause

Even within individual subjects there are innovative teachers who ‘design’ the curriculums around student question and concerns and use inquiry or action based learning approaches. Such teachers appreciate the need for students to be active meaning makers constructing their own learning with the expert help of their teachers.

More creative schools arrange for teams of teachers to look after groups of students allowing for project work to naturally integrate knowledge from traditional disciplines while other schools, feeling their way encourage teachers to integrate one or two subjects even if they still keep to their own rooms. Some schools, in attempt to make learning relevant, have developed the idea of ‘academies’ where students, with particular talents, learn other curriculum areas as required to develop their passions. Such schools, using active learning approaches, find modern information technology works best when it is naturally integrated. There are even schools considering developing personalized education plans for every student.

These exciting and innovative ideas take schools a long way from their Industrial Age mass education heritage.

The shame is they are not as widespread as they could be even though there has been encouragement for schools to move in these directions. Secondary schools are essentially conservative organizations resistant to change – many still function as they were designed in the last century.

Most of the examples mentioned above are extra curricula activities but slowly the thinking behind such realistic challenges is entering the mainstream of school life. The ideas are not new but their development is constrained by subject boundaries.

To cater for the full range of students, and to equip them to thrive in an ever changing environment, requires learning to shift towards such integrated ‘contextual’ tasks rather than learning through compartmentalized and disconnected subjects.

Involvement in such activities as the Youth Enterprise Scheme indicates how appealing innovative approaches are to students who relish the opportunity to develop real life skills (‘key competencies’) in areas that attract them and that utilize their talents and skills. Rich , real, relevant and rigorous learning is required - doing fewer things really well, as some educators are encouraging.

This is the type of learning that will feature increasingly in the creative schools of tomorrow as school move towards becoming ' communities of inquiry'.

Every student has a range of talents to be developed and every student should have an opportunity to have that talent developed and to gain a positive learning identity as they strive for excellence.

There ought to be no failures – that is a concept that belongs to an Industrial Age. We now know enough that no student need fail but only if we change our collective minds first.


Anonymous said...

You have tapped into the real challenge of education at any level - helping learners engage in realistic tasks to 'construct' their own meanings about issues that concern them - and, in the process, to call on the knowledge and ways of working of the many different ways humans explore and express ideas, and, as well, to make use of others ( their teachers, but not exclusively) assistance.

Anonymous said...

While primary teachers seem to hold the high ground, when it comes to pedagogy, the work their students do is all too often shallow as a result of a lack of teacher content knowledge ( 'higher order thinking for thin learning').

Secondary teachers, by contrast, fall into the trap of simply 'transmitting' what they consider to be important content ( 'jusy in case' learning).

If schools could amalgamate both ( inquiry and in depth learning) then all would be winners; most of all the students.

Anonymous said...

Someone once told me that secondary schools were like large cities - they have great things going on in some quarters and parts you wouldn't want to know about. Trouble is the kids who have get more, and the ones who have less get kicked out.

Primary schools are more like small towns - everyone kows what you are up to so it is all a bit conformist.

Courage is required to be creative in either!

Bruce Hammonds said...

If people were brave enough the most exciting place to be, for creative techers, would be developing 'personalised' programmes in the early secondary school years.

Anonymous said...

The provision of realist tasks are the key to re-energising our secondary schools - particularly for those that find it all a bit of a bore. You are right, such 'learning rich' activities ought to be at the centre of school learning.