Education is for now and the future – isn’t it?

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?


2 thoughts on “Education is for now and the future – isn’t it?

  1. Teaching, at the coal face, is not something that’s well understood by the people who are voting for change. Teaching is a list of outcomes or competencies that you have sign off for each student. How you get there is up to you…mostly. My wife, a teacher of 30 years and a specialist in her field wrote this blog piece which was published on and shared by many schools nationwide.

    Education for the 21st Century
    Recently I have been pondering our school system and how well it really prepares our children for the lives they will lead this century.

    As a parent I worry that schools are not too dissimilar to those I attended many years ago, yet the world our kids will live in will be so different to the one we have experienced. As a teacher I completely understand how hard it is to make the fundamental shifts required to drag our schools into the 21st century and embrace all of the technologies at our disposal. When I remember that children in Kindergarten today will be retiring in 70 or so years, I realise that we need to start making some significant shifts in how we teach and how students learn.

    I have heard today’s youth described as digital natives, while their parents and teachers are referred to as digital immigrants. The landscape of learning and living in this age of social media is changing so rapidly that it is foreign to so many of us. Just today I was saying to my husband that I feel like I am reaching saturation point with learning about new technologies, much like my parents must have felt when the VCR came out in the early eighties. When they wanted to program it to record something, they handed the remote to me, much like my kids have taught me a thing or two about how to use my smart phone. I haven’t stopped learning but I am running out of RAM in my brain to process new information!

    This phenomenon is shared by many teachers and makes it more difficult to integrate new technologies into classrooms. It’s hard but so very necessary. Scott McLeod Director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education and co-creator of the wildly popular video, Did You Know? (Shift Happens) provides an interesting commentary on the reluctance of educators to embrace exciting technologies in his article What if?

    If we want our children to be truly engaged in their education and we want them to want to be at school, it is imperative that schools and teachers embrace those technologies that excite them. Just last week the Premier of NSW has announced the lifting of a long term ban on teachers using social networking tools such as Facebook and twitter at school while rolling out 4300 interactive whiteboards to public schools. The changes are happening now. It’s no longer a case of should we, but rather how can we best integrate social networking into classrooms. When you consider how our teenagers are living their lives and learning about their world outside of school hours, they’re actually having to “power down” during school hours to conform to the outdated learning technologies on offer.

    The schools of the future, the immediate future, will move away from textbook driven, teacher-centred, paper and pencil learning. Instead of expecting students to provide specific answers in standardised tests, we need them to learn to ask more questions. The answers are all out there at our fingertips if only we know how to ask the question. Students will need to be more discerning and critical so that they can determine if the answers they find are reasonable and likely to be accurate. More than ever, teachers are required to be facilitators to learning, creating the conditions in which students can learn and then letting them get on with it.

    There are exciting times ahead. The progress won’t stop, in fact it will accelerate at an exponential rate. We are all going along for the ride so do you want to be on the bus or being dragged along behind, kicking and screaming, holding on for dear life? I know I’m looking for a seat at the front of the bus. I want to see where this journey will take us and what lies in store for my kids. Hold on….. I think we’re in for a wild ride!

    • Thanks for the wonderful contribution. While there is much we may not see eye to eye on. I do agree that there is an unknown future. I am note embracing technology is THE solution. It has to be part, but not the whole.

      I am far from a Luddite, as I embrace technology, but there is sufficient evidence to support the need for non-technological pedagogical tools.

      As for information at their fingertips. That exists know. But access to information is not the same as knowledge. Knowledge in my assertion is the application of information. It is more than knowing what, it is knowing how and more importantly, why.

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