Wow, here we are two months it on 2016. Where did the time go? Sorry for the absence. I have been working on a post about how 2015 oversaw the death of critical discourse. I have put that aside for this post. It will appear soon.
I was driving home and listening to the broadcast on ABC 1026 AM (Australia) of the Australian Parliament proceedings of the Senate. Now, I admit I didn’t pay too much attention to exact details as I was negotiating traffic. But I did hear enough of a Labor senator extolling the virtues of their dear leader Bill Shorten’s education plan that they will take to this year’s election. Part of the presentation made me go – “what the…”.
The senator, whose name escapes me, spoke about how the education plan will prepare children for the future; and then when the on to talk about the current low literacy and numeracy rates. He spoke about how extra money will be there for technology, assistance for children that fall behind so they do not stay behind, and set people up for their future and for the countries economic needs. Now, this is not the first time I have heard this. I remember reading an advert for a university in Victoria, Australia that claimed that they would make their students ready for an unknown future. I had the same reaction to that advert that I had to the senator today – when did we stop doing that? And how can they prepare someone for a future that is unknown? What skills will they need? What will industry look like? And so on. But the key question I keep coming back to, is when did we stop doing that?
When did we stop preparing people for the future? when did we stop giving them logic, reasoning, and critical thinking skills? When did we let students fall behind, and then leave them there? And when did the only solution to all of these issues become money? Because money appears to be the only solution they are offering. And, in my view, money is not the solution.
You might ask what is the solution. Well, that is a difficult question. Firstly, we have stop assuming everybody wants to study everything. Politicians are now talking about making STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) compulsory as they will be the skills of the future. They are also talking about making computer coding, and a foreign language compulsory as well. Based on this, here is my prediction – more kids will fall behind and most likely stay there.
STEM, language acquisition, and computer coding are great, and I wish I could do any of them. But they are specialist skills. I learnt a little HTML during my business degree, and in the early 1990s I wrote SQL statements from scratch, but I doubt I could write code for a computer program. And I doubt it is a generalist skill. I also did accounting and statistics, and with the help of a great man with a PhD in Mathematics I scrapped by. I can read reports with data analysis in it and understand, but don’t ask me to do it. Even though the course material stated if I passed I would be competent and capable, I am not. And this is becuase these skills require a different mindset, and I don’t have it.
So, what would I do. I would go old school. Make english, maths and science compulsory subjects. Yes I know what I said above, and as much as maths drives me mental, it has significant value in teaching thinking and logic; as does science. English literacy never ever goes out of fashion. I would make other subjects electives. Let the student decide what they are interested in and let them choose subjects that match their current perception of their future pathways. I may be being over dramatic but there is something Orwellian in telling people what they will learn and what they will apply to their future. Not everyone will be a scientist, computer programmer, or engineer. The country will still need plumbers, builder, carpenters, mechanics, shop assistants etc etc.
I would also reduce the reliance on technology for note taking. I know a friend of mine (DW) who will reward this and rail against such an idea as iPads etc are tools of the future. And in some way I agree. But there is considerable research and anecdotal evidence that handwriting notes creates a deeper level of learning, recall, and application. It also works fine motor skills. Also, the student will take notes that suits their style of learning, rather than just typing what is said.
Unlike Dewey who wrote in the 1930s that teachers should be involved, I would not get them engaged in what subjects should be taught as I now hold an earnest belief that they, as a profession, are politically compromised. That said, they need more freedom in how they teach to reach all children. I would also reduce the number of benchmark tests that they are required to implement/administer. They have little educational value and to me are nothing more than a political tool to justify spending or to allow politicians to boast about how effective their reforms are. Totally forgetting that it was the teachers that managed to work within a convoluted system and manage to move student through it. There should be one summative test near the end of the year to ensure that the student has a sufficient grasp of the subject to be able to advance. Teachers could develop and implement as many formative assessments throughout the school year to check student learning and develop strategies to assist those students who may need help.
What would you do?