Last month I watched a TED talk by acclaimed speaker Ken Robinson. Personally, Ken Robinson is one of my favourite speakers on Education and educational reform. He has an ability to make his point not only entertaining, but simple and accessible to all. His message here has drawn upon previous material. However, he makes a very clear point about the core business of teaching and learning across all levels of education. Here is Ken’s talk:
Ken made some very astute points about education in today’s climate. One point he makes is rather ironic. He says that; ‘because of the nature of what it means to be human, the essential spark of interest in each of us in different’ (at this point, Ken was discussing the American ‘drop-out’ crisis and the experience of failure by students). However, in examining this fundamental element of how we are all different, our systems of education all expect us to excel at literacy and numeracy. Yes…. I said excel.
Governments and educational systems are motivated by measuring data around Literacy and Numeracy standards. You only have to look at the Australian National Assessment Program, Literacy And Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing, PISA World Rankings and the latest part of our world to endorse teacher based assessment – New York. The New Yourk Times last week wrote;
Under the new system, 20 to 25 percent of each teacher’s rating score would be determined by state-approved measures of students’ growth, another 15 to 20 percent by measures established by the schools, and 55 to 60 percent would be based on in-class observations or performance assessed by video recording….The new model would have four tiers — “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing” and “ineffective” — and be based on test scores and classroom observations.
…It can only presumably be said that these measures would be based around Literacy and Numeracy. But in our current global milieu, with China and India becoming more developed in terms of civilisation and education, and with the role technology is playing in closing the gaps in education…Where is the ceiling of literacy and numeracy attainment? Do we keep expecting more and set the ceiling higher each year, or do we expect something different?
Robinson urges us to move past the data and into a student centred, student led curriculum where not only Literacy and Numeracy standards are a focus, but also the Arts and student’s interests. He discusses the Finnish education system, where students do not drop out and where the results are the highest in the world for literacy and numeracy.
I have one problem with pursuing a system of education like the Finnish.. and that is culturally they have something quite unique. They have built a culture of education where the teacher is supported, highly respected and backed by the parent and society in which they live. They have autonomy over their curriculum and learning, they are paid extremely well and they are the top performing graduates within their country. Changing that aspect of culture long-term in already developed western countries will come albeit too late and have little to no substantial economical impact. By the time the culture has changed, China and India will have economically overpowered western countries in capitalist markets and the shift of wealth will have moved.
It almost becomes paradoxical in nature to be able to refashion an entirely new system of education when we keep expecting more of the same. I am not saying that Literacy and Numeracy standards are not important. They are. Yet facilitating and fashioning pathways for learners and teaching to the ‘Point of Need’ of a student at that exact moment of learning, is ultimately what teaching is about.
I ask you, how open is your education system to letting ‘go’ and giving freedom to teachers who are experienced, show talent and passion, to be able to redefine an ageing model of education? If literacy and numeracy attainment is becoming greater because of our need to engage with technology at a younger age, then where do our focuses for all levels of education lie? … I wonder what Beethoven would say?
It is not, and cannot be all doom and gloom. There are systems around the world in developed western countries that have made their move and begun to redefine teaching and learning. I am lucky to be a part of that. The core business of teaching and learning across all sectors now rests with the ability of the teacher to not only provide structures that enhance literacy and numeracy standards, but also allow for students to direct their learning through their interests. It offers a very interesting and deep model of education, particularly if educational institutions become centres of innovation, ‘think tanks’ and wider business propositions unto themselves. We can provide more than just a service… we can also fashion the future.