21st Century Learning

New Zealand has been leading the education world for many, many years. In 1877 the Education Act was passed into law. This provided for the “free, compulsory and secular education” for kiwi children up to Year 8. At this time this was known as Standard 6.

At the beginning of the 20th century secondary education started to be offered in various regions around the country. The first Labour government removed fees from all secondary schools during their term. So from the late 1930s, New Zealand children could attend fully funded public education from aged 5.

Initially the setting up of a free and compulsory education was a response to the industrial revolution that was fully underway in Europe and the United States. In the video below my hero Sir Ken Robinson explains, far more succinctly than I ever could, how the education paradigm is changing.

As Sir Ken points out, the move by Western education policy makers is to move away from all the curriculum areas – I would argue these to be the arts, technology, science and physical education – to focus on the measuring and recording data in the so-called “core curriculum areas” of literacy and numeracy.

Anyone who knows anything about education (unfortunately this doesn’t seem to include many of our policy makers) should be concerned about the narrowing of the curriculum.

The motivations of our rulers to ‘reform’ a successful education system have been well recorded by many other people such as Allan Alach and Dianne Khan. As you may suspect, as we have seen from the US example, the motivations lie in the access by corporates to the vast public education spend.

If we are to fight this unnecessary reform we must look at ourselves as parents and educators and start asking questions about the education system we want for our kids?

If you are reading this blog now have a look around the room. Firstly, what device are you viewing this on? Next, have a look at the other devices in the house. There may be a smart-phone, tablet, laptop, desktop or smart tv.

Now think about your child’s class. It is highly likely that your child has access to at least two of these devices, plus an interactive white-board. They live in a digital world. There has been a term floating around for years – digital native – which probably sounds like jingoistic nonsense. Essentially it means that kids in the education system at the present time have a full range of technologies available to them all the time. It has always been that way for them.

The child that is born today is born into a world with twitter, youtube, iPads, Samsung Galaxy tablets, smart-phones, facebook, and anything else you can imagine. They can instantly view texts of any genre at any time of the day and in full colour.

In my day it was blackboards, chalk and writing in books with a good old-fashioned HB pencil. If we were lucky we got a methylated-spirit tainted worksheet to do. Most often it was copying information off the blackboard into our books.

These days certain people wondering how we can “return” to how things were like when we were at school?

Because it is what they know. It is what they are comfortable with. We humans are creatures of habit. Change is bad mmm-kay?

If we are to reform our education system, and this appears to be the catch-cry of so many Western policy makers these days, we must first ask ourselves: what is the purpose of school?

Is it not to prepare our young people for a life in the workforce? Isn’t school is there to set kids up to be successful workers working in jobs they love.

Is this what school is about?


How many schools do you know that have their desks lined up like this? Everyone facing the teacher. Everyone listening carefully and writing down verbatim what the teacher is saying. Everyone being tested at the end of the week / month / year on everything they have written down.

There are no schools like this. If there are, which I doubt very much, they are failing their students.

No, this style of education was set up over 150 years ago to prepare workers for the industrial revolution.

How many work-places do you know are like this?


None. We don’t work in this world now. Yes there are call centres, factories manufacturing a variety of goods, offices of accountants and insurance brokers that look pretty similar to the above Victorian sewing mill. However, it is incredibly rare for a person to turn up to work, sit at their desk for eight hours without talking to anyone, then leave work.

Where am I going with this?

Previously on this blog I’ve talked about the need for schools to prepare kids for jobs that haven’t been invented yet (if I haven’t, then I just have!). How do we do this?

We do this by creating students who are inspired to be life-long learners. We teach them to actively engage in their own learning. We teach them to critically analyse the ways in which they learn best. We encourage them to follow their passions and learn by doing. We facilitate their learning through a vast range of mini-projects where students collaborate with their classmates or schoolmates or friends from other schools around the world. If we have schools that are as close as they can be to the workplaces then we will have young people who can leave school confident in their abilities to take on any challenge that life throws at them.

Here’s a fly-through video of children learning at Amesbury School in Wellington.

Amesbury Flythrough from Amesbury School on Vimeo.

How different is that? Does it remind you of anything? If it doesn’t, then have a look at the next video.

That’s Google’s head office. Leaders of invention.

The world we live in is tech-heavy. Everyone has a device. Some people have more than one. Some have more than 5! We should prepare our kiwi children to be part of this 21st-century world.

Why can’t New Zealand be a country that leads the world in app development, information technology and programming? Exporting IT solutions and technologies across the ever decreasing global

How can you do that when you are forcing kids to sit three-hour external exams? How many workplaces do you know that get their workers to spend days or weeks learning a bunch of information before testing them at the end of it. If you get over 50% you are a good worker.

How productive is telling them from the age of 5 that they are “well below” everyone else in their class and school – this is the system we currently work in? How many workplaces send home half-yearly reports to their workers saying they are “well below” their other workers? None. Because that isn’t a productive way to support workers to become effective.

Our schools need to be places that children are enthused about arriving in the morning and turning up to create solutions to real world problems.

What if a group of Year 5 & 6 children developed a more efficient way to harness wind power by inventing a miniature wind turbine that could be installed on the roof of a house and provide a renewable energy source for their own home?

And that’s my plan for this term. We are studying renewable energy and my plan is to get them to create their own renewable energy generation device (wind, hydro or solar). If my kids end up in a place where they do this, isn’t that going to be far more

As a boy once said to me when I was teaching him how to subtract 84 from 121 using a new subtraction strategy, “Mr Boon, why do we have to learn this when I can work it out on the calculator?”

It was a question I didn’t have the answer to.

At the moment schools is geared towards teaching content. It must be geared towards helping kids understand how they learn, in which conditions they learn best, and how they can develop and enhance the skills of collaboration and communication over time. Content will be there to assist us, but it isn’t important.

Before you freak out, let me finish by asking you this question: When was the last time you looked at a triangular object and pointed out to all those around you, “Look. A hypotenuse!”

Mr B


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