Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Escaping from past thinking.

We have almost completed the best part of the first decade of the 21stC but what has changed - and are we changing fast enough to survive?

The trouble is we are still trapped inside the boxes created by the highly successful industrial age. It is apparent as we move into, what some call the 'information is power age', that industrial type thinking is now holding us back.

The industrial age has had a long run ( a couple of centuries or so replacing the earlier agricultural era) but it is well and truly past is use by date.

The problem is someone forgot to tell the educational establishment - more likely they are too busy protecting their own positions of power to even listen.

To make things worse it seems that most in the world of education have mutually accepted the status quo as all there is.

As a result schools still reflect the factory era in the way they are structured and timetabled - students moving through the assembly line to the sound of bells. This image might have been dented at the early education and primary levels but it is certainly alive and well in all secondary schools worldwide. Well, except for those few heretical pioneers who have realized that the 'one size fits all' fits no one!

Even the recently delivered 'new' New Zealand National Curriculum will be impossible to implement at the secondary level unless there is a giant shift of thinking ( followed by new sympathetic structures). We wait for miracles.

Traditional education is 'fundamentalist' in that it sees the past as the way to the future. What is needed is some courageous heresy from educational leaders so as to provide a diverse range of ideas, some of which may evolve into a future orientated system.

Just as the industrial age put paid to the ways of working and living, when it replaced the agricultural era, so will, what some now call, the 'Age Of Ideas or Creativity', or the 'Second Renaissance'.

Until this occurs our schools will continue to be full of teachers who are paid to mass produce learning and, in the process, marginalize the very competencies and talents that will be needed in the future. This factory approach, premised on a narrow academic diet, has no place in a fast changing global world . Failure is endemic in such a dysfunctional system.

Students sitting in rows facing the chalkboard ( or just as pedagogically dated, an electronic whiteboard) should, no longer, be the main image of learning.

Destroying the traditional transmission 'just in case' you'll need it knowledge approach and replacing it with an emergent ' just in time' learning environments is a priority.

Students and teachers need to escape from their conformist boxes.

New approaches to learning requires the cross pollination of ideas and be based around students solving realistic problems assisted by learning advisers ( a new image for teachers). In the future the teachers main role will be to ensure that every student develops their own successful 'personalised' learning pathway. These approaches will fundamentally change the way students learn and teachers teach and would reflect what is happening in the real world, where the lines between the arts and the sciences are now blurred, as new innovative ideas are being explored.

Teachers will have to learn to get out of their subject boxes so as to collaborate with others to to be able to introduce realistic cross disciplined learning challenges. Only then will the various talents of individual students be recognised and amplified. When this happens learning would move away from the four walls of the restrictive classroom boxes and enter both the local and virtual environments.

By means of such realistic challenges students will begin to acquire the learning 'competencies' and become 'seekers , users and creators of the own knowledge' , ideas which underpin the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum. The future requires students who are able to make informed and ethical choices about the problems that currently face the world.

Most importantly this 'new learning' for a new 'creative age' is premised on all students learning not just those biased towards academic subjects as at present.

Every learner needs to leave school as a a 'life long learner'. Achieving this is the challenge of future schools.

Once you begin to think of the attributes of creative individuals it soon becomes apparent that our present schools are not healthy places for such people to develop. Creativity needs to replace academic conformity!

It might be easier to start from scratch than to try and change our current schools. This is what happened when the industrial age took over the world changing forever how we lived, worked and thought.

Now is not the time to defend the past!

Now is time to escape the limits of past thinking that has boxed us into a corner and to face up to the solving problems created by industrial aged thinking that are putting humankind at risk.

The best advice is to start listening to the heretics!

Or better still be one!


Anonymous said...

There is no point in having an enlightened new curriculum if the Minister and his Ministry officials are not brave enough to challenge the 'industrial aged' structures and mindsets of secondary schools and teachers. Unless such schools really change (as against protecting the past ) then nothing will change.

Bruce Hammonds said...

The big traditional schools principals hold too much power for politicians to confront.Ironically most of these schools are state schools! Such schools, with their 'fundamentalist thinking', actually go against the directions asked of them by the state - the move to antiquated pass /fail Cambridge exams for example.