Sunday, August 21, 2011

Moving the Front Line

One world war started because of train timetables and empire arrogance.  The other started because everyone thought that no sane person would really make it happen so giving in was ok.  So how does that short (and very simplistic) history lesson of how the two worst world wars that the world has seen apply remotely to education in New Zealand or to what I do in one small primary school?!?

Well, here we are, already a decade into the 21st Century and as Derek Wenmoth said in his latest post 'The state of digital education' ..." we have...thousands of independently operating, often competing and generally struggling entities called schools around the country – each trying to re-invent the wheel, and the majority still not grasping the significance of the digital revolution that is sweeping the world."  And it troubles me, because I believe he is right, that we find our schools and our wider education sector in such a predicament.  

2010 was the official year the revised curriculum was to be implemented, or in reality carrying on the process of, but it was a document that encouraged schools to reflect on and develop the big picture that school life is a part of -  to think outside the 3 R's box and it had (and has) the potential to shift a schools pedagogy and thinking of the rapidly changing educational landscape of the 21st Century learner.  It said things like:

"All New Zealand students, regardless of where they are situated, should experience a rich and balanced education that embraces the intent of the national curriculum. The principles should underpin and guide the design, practice, and evaluation of curriculum at every stage. The values, key competencies, and learning areas provide the basis for teaching and learning across schools and within schools. This learning will contribute to the realisation of a vision of young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners." 
(The school curriculum - design and review - TKI)

2010 was also the year that the November mail surprise was meant to begin to take effect - those curriculum look-a-like trio of books called the national standards and the associated justifying soundbites - '1 in 5 failing' (though not often finished with the clarifying remark of 'at NCEA Level 2'!) '20% of schools are failing our students' etc etc.

Don't get me wrong - I am not anti-standards.  Every high performing school, should and do, use a range of nationally referenced assessment tools, as well as day to day interactions to make judgements on how an individual is progressing and what their next learning goal needs to be.  But it needs to be done (as the national curriculum says) by providing a "rich and balanced education" that will "contribute to the realisation of a vision" for each individual student - not on some 'back mapped, looks like the curriculum but it isn't' set of books that put everyone on a standardised and linear pathway!  

But, to many people the current 'sound bites' of education make sense.  Primary education is about Reading, Writing and Maths.  It sounds right that there should be one set of standards so we can compare our kids against each other, as they should all achieve things at the same time as everyone else - shouldn't they?  We should know if little Jonny is failing at age 5 - shouldn't we?  Shame on him for not progressing like everyone else his age!?!

I believe this potentially high stakes narrowing of what really matters in the curriculum has distracted schools right when the potential of the visionary curriculum was being realised.  It has lulled many into losing sight of just how significant the shift in the real educational world is.  That as Derek said "...the majority (are) still not grasping the significance of the digital revolution that is sweeping the world."  The problem also is that the majority of our community's relate to school as it being what they remember it was like when they were there.  That it is the place for learning to read, write and do arithmetic!  That this thing called e-learning is a fad - anything digital is just playing - wasting time - not learning - its not real school work!  

This is where the warfare reflection comes into play.  There is a war going on around the heart and soul of what school is.  The real shift in how we do school - that balances the curriculum needs of foundation and enriching learning - will only be authentic and gain real traction if our teachers, principals and community's grasp the concept of it.  Part of that shift must happen with the profession itself as exampled by Derek's quote.  Once a school has an authentic idea of what e-learning and this digital revolution is then they can actually strategically plan to go 'over the top'.  It's a dangerous place - no mans land - and yet if we can shift the front line (once we know where we want to go!) and push back the traditional model of school that seems to be being reintroduced then the rewards for our schools, our learners and indeed the future of our country will be immeasurable.  As many Asian countries throw off the yoke of standardisation, conformity and the raising of test scores at all costs to encourage the skills of creativity and entrepreneurship we seem to 'back mapping' our way to raising standards?!?

Authentic, creative learning that engages and empowers our learners to "seize the day" (Carpe Diem!) is personalised, organic and almost un-measurable - something you can't test or write a national standard for!  The rallying cry for dynamic and future focussed leadership in our schools is reaching a crescendo - do we have the capacity across our schools and in our political leadership to respond appropriately?!?

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