If Rip van Winkle were to awaken in the 21stC after a hundred year snooze he would be utterly bewildered by what he would see. Every aspect of the world would baffle him until he found his way into a secondary school. There he would know exactly where he was – ‘we used to have these in 1909’- although her might be a bit confused with electronic whiteboards and computers, the bells and fragmented transmission style learning would be familiar.
Obviously secondary schools are not frozen in time it only seems like this when compared to every other aspect of life. Kids still spend most of their time sitting in rows, listening to teachers drone on, using outdated textbooks, shifting from class to class as if in some factory assembly line.
For many students a yawning gap (with the emphasis on yawning) separates them from the reality of the world outside. Bill Gates has written that American high schools are obsolete – missing is relevance, reality and rigor.
In 2007 the Ministry of Education introduced a new innovative curriculum that has the potential to begin a dramatic transformation of our schools but it could be ‘stillborn’ as the new government has diverted focus to implementing the failed concept of national standards. Rip van Winkle would be pleased.
We need to focus our attention on what our students need to thrive in the future; to move from a standardized mass education to a personalized approach that develops the gifts and talents of all our students. Literacy and numeracy, as important as they are, are a meager minimum - ‘foundation skills’ - at best they are means to an end so as to allow all students to become ‘active seekers, user and creators of their own knowledge’. Future students must leave with the initiative to think ‘out of the box’ as the future success will place a priority on creativity and innovation. Such students will have to know how to manage all the overflowing information available. They will need good people skills to be able to work well with others and with people of different cultures.
Can schools, developed in Rip van Winkle’s time to educate students for an industrial age, able to make the shift to future requirements? It doesn’t look good so far. Schools will have to dramatically change or risk being bi-passed entirely by the use of modern information technology. The pressure is on to change but the resistance is strong. History, as Galileo’s round earth ideas shows, changes over time but time is one thing that is not on our side, as sustainability issues indicate.