Early yesterday morning I sat at this very computer with ideas of writing a thought-provoking piece about modern education. After 10 or so seconds it turned into yet another satirical diatribe aimed in the direction of our beloved and most respected Minister.
This morning I thought I would again attempt to start what I intended yesterday.
This week I was lucky to attend the Learning@Schools roadshow in Ashburton. This was a one-day mini-conference run by Core Education and attended by many wonderful educators all with the same mindset: How do we educate children in the 21st century? Probably better to turn that question into a statement: Look how we’re educating children in the 21st century.
Regular readers will be well aware of my feelings towards the national standard and what a backwards, regressive and downright dangerous policy it is. What it relies on is a series of measurements, at present taken by teachers, but in the very near Tom Cruise Minority Report future this government is dragging us towards, will be completed by a centralised computer server-based at the Ministry of Education in Wellington.
This government’s education policy is simple: declare it a failure, measure it, report it, cut funding to it (this, of course, does not apply to chartnership schools – their funding increases no matter how much they fail).
These bureaucratic measurements are designed not to improve educational outcomes but to justify neoliberal policy. After all, you cannot call someone a failure unless you draw a line in the sand and say, “if you are behind this line you are a failure” after which you gear more of your policy to “dealing” with this failure and PRESTO! You have an education system that is just teaching English and Mathematics and none of the good, character building stuff like the Arts, P.E., Social Sciences etc, etc, etc.
The other aspects of education that National Standards don’t measure are the key competencies – relationships with others, managing yourself, participating and contributing, thinking, and using languages, symbols and texts (this last one could possibly be measured. Possibly?).
Think about it… how would you measure a child thinking? Take the question posed in yesterday’s blog by my fictional Hekia: 6 x 8. That has a measurable answer, 42, but how do you measure the way a child gets to this answer? Hook their head up to a brain-reading machine to find which parts of the brain are active during answering? Get them to write down or discuss how they solved the problem? Time how long it takes them to solve – the longer it takes, the more thinking is happening?
Key competencies are notoriously hard to measure using a test in the National Standards sense of the word. There is no one observable event or result; there is just an overall, for want of a better word, feeling. When I’m writing my reports (which will be very, very soon (possibly should be now!)), I do my own thinking to decide how Child A has progressed on the key competencies. I ask myself questions: have they improved? Are they doing better than last year? Have they been working hard in any particular area?
There is absolutely no way that I can measure these things with a standardised test supplied by Pearson or another multinational education resources company who, undoubtedly, is donating money to the National Party in sums lighter than the notifiable amount of $15,000.
The problem comes with the current government policy colliding with the needs of a modern, 21st century working environment. Children currently negotiating their way through school need to be able to learn new jobs that don’t even exist yet. Solid key competencies, as etherial and hippy-ish as they must sound to people who actually believe that knowing 6 x 7 = 42 is the measure of educational achievement, are actually more important in the workforce than 6 x 7. As a 10 year old in my class pointed out one day, “why do I have to learn my times-tables when I can work them out on this calculator?” This was a fine point. Essentially he was saying why do I have to learn this knowledge when I know exactly where I can find it? This was 21st century learning in action.
I mean, when was the last time you used any of the maths you learnt in 6th form? For me, mathematics was a compulsory subject up to the 6th form /Year 12 level. Thankfully it was very easy for me to achieve well in because I was good at it. Unfortunately, or rather, more typically (as I’m a boy), English was also compulsory but because I wasn’t as good I didn’t get into it because it was harder for me to achieve.
Imagine if your entire schooling was spent stuck in English and Mathematics, neither of which you enjoyed because you weren’t good at. How motivated would you be to achieve? How motivated would you be to actually attend a school totally focussed on these two core curriculum areas and not much else.
I think I’ll leave school thanks. You suck!
And we have yet another marginalised learner who leaves school believing it to be the single worst experience of their lives.
New Zealand children have to be at school from the age of 5 through to 16. That’s a very long time to be doing something that doesn’t mesh with you. Yet the policy this government wants to embed will cause exactly this – a narrowing of the curriculum to the “core” subjects, more students who “fail” according to the standards and a vicious circle of under achievement and implementation of harsher measurements and more failing students, stricter testing regimes and a carbon copy of the system American students currently find themselves trapped within.
You only have to read this blog from the Huffington Post to know where National will take our education system through their (or more accurately, their donors) wish to impose upon us. We will end up with jaded teachers, unmotivated students who believe themselves as failures, and school leavers who will be ill-suited to work in a 21st century learning environment (I’m including school and the workplace in this environment).
Would you ever take a risk if all you’ve ever known is failure? Why bother trying when I know I’m going to fail anyway.
We will lose our sense of kiwi number-8-wire inventiveness that has made our school leavers first up the highest mountain, invent jetboats and superbikes, split the atom… I could go on, but you get the idea.
National’s standards will fail our children.
I’ll tell you this for nothing. The many teachers I met and talked with at the Learning@School roadshow the other day are doing all this amazing teaching despite National’s standards.
I work within your system. I’ll tick your boxes, I’ll fill out your forms, I’ll do your paperwork, but I won’t dumb-down my programme.
That is not in the best interests of my children.
With the National-led junta currently marching us perilously close to a parallel society it would be very easy for me this morning to compose a 1500-word essay expressing my dismay upon the release of the budget.
I’m not going to waste my words.
Instead, let’s celebrate the learning of my class.
This week they imagined they were soldiers sailing across the world on troop ships to fight in the great war. Their task was to write letters home to their families.
Here are the results of their labour. After you arrive at the page, just click on a name to read a letter.
The guys did an amazing job on this task. You should see the finished result! They’ve all aged their letters to look like they were written in 1914 (all wrinkled, torn and aged with tea bags and a quick bake in the oven). One boy even copied the Imperial War Office insignia at the top of his letter. Genius!
I think I need to do more of this celebrating. It’s easy to get caught up in the great political football education has turned into in recent years. I need to remember my learners are awesome and that’s why I’m a teacher.
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.
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!”