27 Jan It’s not a revolution unless something changes
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.