It sometimes seems to be the case that education in the UK often becomes a bit of a political football – so much so that there is a danger that we lose the essence of what learning is all about.
Many commentators have spoken of the need for not simply educational reform but for educational revolution.
In the 1980’s the authors Dryden and Vos made the observation that we were teaching young people to face a future in which they will have to solve problems that we do not know will be problems yet, with technologies that do not exist yet and undertake roles and jobs which we have no concept of – yet.
A few years ago a presentation called SHIFT HAPPENS highlighted some of the ways in which change is happening exponentially – what we know, what we think we know – what we understand, what we think we understand – is all in a state of flux. In short technological and scientific developments are redefining the skills that we will need to engage fully in our futures.
As technology and scientific discoveries shape and mold our understanding of the world they bring with them new and different moral and ethical questions which will need to be addressed.
The real question is whether or not our current education systems, which Sir Ken Robinson maintains stifles creativity and are really ‘one long university application process’, can meet the challenge of the future.
For the most part education systems are linear, attempting to homogenize learning experiences by creating academic targets that are based upon chronological age and not social-emotional-intellectual readiness. At the same time teachers are being presented with a host of ‘learning initiatives’ that are often little more than coverings for a crumbling system; hence they are met with cynicism promoting a real lack of joined-up thinking.
This is not about the teachers and the quality of their work. It is more about the structures within which they are working or are expected to work.
Talk to teachers about teaching and learning and one of their first observations will be about the ‘crowded curriculum’ followed by a disheartening reflection that “admin work” is taking them away from the process of engaging with young people in learning challenges and conversations.
At the start of this academic term I was invited to talk to a group of parents and eager Year 10 students about the ‘fresh start’ they could make on their chosen examination subjects. The focus of my talk was about being emotionally engaged, and therefore, motivated by their own learning. All went well and my presentation was well received, but perhaps would have been so much more ‘real’ if had not been preceded by a senior member of staff in the school talking about ‘target levels’, ‘projected’ and ‘expected’ grades and the need to ensure that grades were in need of constant improvement in order to ensure that colleges of further and higher education looked favourably on future applications.
Surely there are several questions here…
The first is the motivational nature of ‘targets’ in the first place. There is a world of difference between having targets ‘imposed’ and having targets developing from personal goals and interests.
Secondly is the assumption that further or higher academic education, based upon GCSE or A level grades, is the right path for all.
So much for personalised learning!
Of course a cynic could say that the subtext for such targets, and the striving for ‘good grades’ is not about the education of our young people, but about the political hoops that need to be jumped through in order to be recognised as a ‘good’ school or ‘excellent teacher’.
Many of those working at the ‘chalk face’ are aware of the tension that can exist between ‘teaching and learning’, as a philosophical ideal, and ‘education’ as a political agenda where funding and performance are so often linked.
Any Education Authority, School or Teacher daring to take revolutionary view of teaching and learning, must not only face the challenges dictated by central government, where academic progress (i.e. examination performance) is ‘king’, but also the perceptions of parents who cling to more traditional approaches to teaching and learning with the honest intention of wanting their children to ‘do the best they can’.
The truth of the matter is that, in terms of subject knowledge and personal skills, what was valuable in the past may not be that relevant in the future.
In essence, perhaps, there are only four key skill areas in which revolutionary educators need to focus.
1) The Ability to Access and Assess Information
2) The Ability o Communicate Effectively in a Variety of Ways
3) The Ability to Manage and Lead Self
4) The Ability to Manage Chang
Each of these areas have within them other, more generic skills, and the issue is that all can be developed within the framework of a curriculum that is not necessarily divided by ‘subjects’ but linked through ‘context’.
I heard Richard Dawkins comment recently on the decline in the standards of scientific literacy in our society, and the fact that science itself may have been marginalised by a more egalitarian education system wherein personal opinion was perhaps more valued than collective understanding based upon empiricism and reasoned argument.
In many respects I echo this sentiment.
We need to address deficits in critical thinking and encourage the fundamental question ‘how do we know’?
But this cannot be done at the expense of creativity and personal expression.
Artists do not have the monopoly on creativity and personal expression in the same way that scientists do not have the sole rights to analysis and rationality.
The Learning Revolution, the one that has stalled several times, demands that young people are asked questions about what they THINK and how the FEEL in equal measure – and be given the skills to REFLECT upon those questions.
It insists upon encouraging young people to identify their TALENTS and their PASSIONS, which may have little to do with university entrance or academic results.
It requires parents, teachers and politicians to recognise that the skills and knowledge that served them for the NOW may not be the same as those demanded by a society of the FUTURE
“A student can win twelve letters at a university without learning how to write one” – Robert Maynard Hutchins