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It’s not a revolution unless something changes

It’s not a revolution unless something changes

Panorama Of George Julian Zolnay's Allegorical...

Image by takomabibelot via Flickr

My daughter begins high school next week.

And as she does, the Federal government and the various state governments continue to trumpet their triumphs in their so-called Building the Education Revolution plan. As yet, I’ve seen no revolution from this program, and little evolution. Mostly just reactionary, frightened implementation of the laptops for high schoolers program and the building of so many Julia Gillard Memorial Halls.

Once my daughter gains access to this program, I will be asking her school directly whether the hardware, software and data access they are providing students are open and uncensored, giving kids access to all the information and context their rich 21st Century education requires. If not, why not? What’s stopping them? Who’s stopping them? What’s the evidence they’re being given to restrict kids’ access to the single most important tool for collaboration and the finding and sharing of knowledge since the printing press? I don’t blame the schools. They too have masters.

If the tools she has access to are restricted and locked down, I’d rather refuse to take them and provide her the open, unrestricted access to tools and information she deserves and needs. Or show her myself how to hack (though I’d not suggest she actually did) whatever she’s given so she does have open access to information and tools.

I’ll also be asking directly whether their educators and curriculum encourage open questioning of teachers and of the subject matter at hand. Whether dogma of any sort is openly challenged. Whether the right to be wrong is encouraged and used as a learning opportunity – both for teachers and students. Whether teaching is customised to each student’s strengths and weaknesses so the dancers and the liberal arts kids and the mathematicians are afforded the best opportunity to shine. And again, if not, why not?

Furthermore, tomorrow, the MySchool site goes live with what is ostensibly useful comparative data about school quality across the country. The feedback I’ve received from a number of senior educators I know is not complementary. As I suspected, data is decontextualised and badly open to misinterpretation. And misinterpreted it will be.

Many parents will not take the time to understand the data nor engage in deep analytics with it. They will glance at it askance and make profound educational decisions about their children, the future of this nation, on a few seconds look at some table that suggests School A (well funded with good NAPLAN results and in a strong socio-economic suburb) is infinitely better than School B (maybe not so well-funded or with great test results but ideal for their child because of a particular teacher, or program that isn’t addressed in the data). Consequently, understanding of the data and likely media coverage of it risks casting some schools in a light they likely don’t deserve.

This too is not revolutionary, but simply poor politics pandering to a lowest-common-denominator demand for something that will assure votes at the next election.

If we want a real education revolution in this country, we need to teach to the needs of the 21st Century.

The 21st Century requires a new kind of education and a new approach to understanding it. Education must be empowered by technology not restricted by it or restricting of it.

It must be rich, contextualised, open, questioning, multi-disciplinary and relevant to the world.

The classroom itself must change as it currently remains solidly in the 19th Century.

This new education must encourage students to be creative over producing the expected, innovative and expansive in their presentation and thinking, critical thinkers who question rather than accept, solvers of problems, communicators with their peers and teachers, collaborative in class and life, fluent in assessing the variable value of information which they are presented and highly literate in all aspects of technology.

It requires that educators and particularly government agencies managing education look at pedagogy differently. Many teachers in my experience already do, even if they are hobbled in their attempts to teach differently by bureaucrats fearing change and tightly controlled access to the best tools and information.

It requires a strong stance of providing open access to information and an approach that teaches good digital citizenship to our kids. Of course, not all of them will learn from such an opportunity, but that is no reason to not provide it.

We must have no more History Wars nor anything like them in other fields. Nor locked-down systems. Nor one-size-fits-all curriculum. Nor standardised tests that prove nothing beyond an ability to pass on the day (as an example, one of the most inspiring and intelligent people I know, cannot pass such tests).

I’m no expert on education. But I understand technology, collaboration and the benefits of open organisations and I have a pretty good idea of what it’s going to take to be capable as a participant in the 21st Century. I’ve had words to say about this subject in the past, and while nothing substantial changes, I’ll keep at it.

EDIT: Darcy Moore, an educator and high school administrator explains why MySchool is a problem, with some history, and how innovative approaches elsewhere have been successful.

Stephen Collins
trib@acidlabs.org
9 Comments
  • Ralf Lippold
    Posted at 01:48h, 28 January Reply

    … for the future to come kids (and also us;-)) have to learn to act pretty much as artists in order to cope with the unexpected in a creative way.

    What are the small steps in education that enable this shift of education focus?

    … some provoking lines by Edgar Schein on “The Role of Art and the Artist”:

    “First, art and artists stimulate us to see more, hear more, and experience more of what is going on within us and around us.

    As part of their training, artists expand their perceptual and expressive range. One of their key roles, then, is to help the rest of us see more, to broaden our perspectives, and to get in touch with both internal and external forces that we might otherwise not notice. This point applies particularly to the visual arts, but is probably also a factor in musical composition and performance arts. I suspect that composers and actors, like painters and sculptors, have to learn to see and hear before they can create. Many of the exercises through which artists learn how to “see” better are highly applicable to human situations we mismanage because we have not learned to see what is actually going on.”
    (from: http://www.solonline.org/attachmentview!/490278/8814011/p81.pdf – open for SoL members and upon request)

  • alan jones
    Posted at 10:24h, 29 January Reply

    Great post @trib and killer headline. My Boy8’s poor little govt primary school ranked 3rd in the state according to SMH.com.au’s tally. That’s just so obviously borked I have to wonder whether anybody ran thru the data even once before going live, much less gave it to some real live beta-testing parents to see if the data was valid (very different to the development team’s own QA trying to break features).

    I can appreciate there’s a risk of data getting out any time you show it to a real parent or teacher, but hopefully somebody there now appreciates that the risk of the whole initiative losing all its credibility and maybe never getting it back is far, far greater.

    Don’t often see the Deputy PM obviously embarrassed in front of the media but I hope she’s having the clowns responsible keel-hauled repeatedly. Only have to look to the Obama administration to see that it can be done, and it can be done well.

    But still nothing changes.

  • Lea de Groot
    Posted at 23:15h, 31 January Reply

    Have to say, you’re talking pie in the sky 🙁 My kids are lucky to get a teacher who can control the class let alone teach. Primary school was much higher quality!

    • Stephen Collins
      Posted at 06:19h, 01 February Reply

      Lea, I don’t think I am. There are a great number of educators I’ve met in the past couple of years as I’ve worked with their schools or spoken at conferences, who think very much the way I have described in this post and who are working their hardest to ensure their day-to-day classroom teaching is broad, contextualised and rich. Of course, there are others for whom it’s by-the-book.

      I believe it’s up to us as parents to ensure that we place pressure on our political representatives and at the schools our kids go to, to encourage reform that will produce the best 21st C education possible.

      There’s no question that in many cases, there’s a long way to go, but by not imagining this future and by not trying, we surrender the fight before it begins.

  • Catherine White
    Posted at 18:00h, 03 February Reply

    Parents need to do their own research. School selection often entails families relocating so their children can attend a particular school. Choosing a school is not just about the child, but the family lifestyle.

    Only a fool would rely entirely on myschool, however I believe it’s another resource, and one I would have used had it been available when choosing my sons school.

    • Stephen Collins
      Posted at 18:07h, 03 February Reply

      Catehrine, I heartily agree only someone foolish will rely on MySchool. But I fear that’s what will bear out in reality.

      Years of working on the development and implementation of large government web sites bears this out – cursory readings, half-efforts at understanding at best, ill-considered decisions. And that’s all assuming that the data is good and well explained.

  • Kristen
    Posted at 12:31h, 05 February Reply

    It’s nice to hear the voice of another parent who cares about our kids’ education – with reference to both the mistakes of the past and the possibilities of the future.

  • kathy
    Posted at 14:12h, 05 February Reply

    Your assertion (and it’s not yours alone) that most parents can’t be arsed to understand or engage with a large amount of data seems a bit pompous to me.
    If a parent cares about their child’s education they’ll engage, if not they won’t. That’s got nothing to do with technology. It’s why state schools where parents and the wider community are engaged tend to come out on top.

    • Stephen Collins
      Posted at 14:28h, 05 February Reply

      Kathy, I wouldn’t make that assertion at all; though there are some parents like that they’re few and far between. I do know a few directly, unfortunately.

      What I am saying, and it’s evidenced to me through my interactions with educators and parents in my work and in my engagement with my daughter’s school community, is that many parents aren’t equipped with the skills to understand data like that on MySchool, nor to deal well with technological change that their kids take for granted. I also see teachers struggling to deal with the pace of technological change, even those teachers whose job it is to teach it. All of these things carry some nasty potential risks for parents, teachers, kids and education outcomes.

      An engaged school community is critical for great educational outcomes. I’d say it’s in the class of “necessary but not sufficient”. As parents, I believe we have a responsibility to understand the education process, to get deeply engaged in it for our kids. And as parents and teachers, to be as skilled, or moreso than our kids in the technology. Hard, but not impossible.

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