As students returned to school this week, the State Government revealed plans for all NSW students to stay at school until 16 or possibly 18 from next year. The rationale is simple enough – a higher level of education means broader job prospects; but belies an understanding of the complex issues challenging schooling today. The answers to these complex issues are not about the age of school-leavers or how many computers a school has, but whether schools are meeting the needs of today’s learners.
If they were, then perhaps we wouldn’t have so many students ‘dropping out’. This topic generated heated debate and I was able to weigh into the argument on ABC local radio and in a piece for the Sydney Morning Herald. I maintain that our biggest challenge in the knowledge age is to make schooling relevant for today’s learners. If we worked at improving the learning outcomes for all students not just the academically gifted or those who are struggling then we create an environment where life-long learning flourishes. The primary goal of schools should be on the development of the ‘whole person’ not just one aspect.
Good educators recognise the strengths and weaknesses of each student, understand their needs and to use the learning tools available to stimulate deep learning – this is what personalised learning is all about. As a result of the piece in the Herald, I received an email from a second year university student who wanted to share their own views on the nature of schooling and their own experiences:
I think the biggest realisation I had when I was at school (I am now a 2nd year university student) was that there was such uniformity and constriction within work and life at school. Although rules and regulations are important, I don’t think teachers to some degree should restrict students in the way they grow and learn. I think schools need to focus on gradually progressing student to expose them to how it is really like to finish school because what they don’t realise is that you have access to options.You don’t need to go to university to continue your studies nor should it be viewed as being looked down upon. Senior leavers are focused on achieving highly and having admiration for their UAI but once you enter university, the UAI has no significance and university is a whole new ball game. You spoke about students needing to think imaginatively, with creativity and to be open to all opportunities. Schools should not be purely focused on students having to do well academically especially under a traditional curriculum.
We are continuing to work with our school leaders to ensure we deliver on our strategic intent to improve the learning outcomes for all students. As part of this ongoing collaboration, we invited David Eddy from the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland to address 350 of our system leaders. He told our group that good leadership demands that leaders engage in the business of leading the learning agenda for their school.
He and others call this “pedagogical leadership” and this has been a theme I have been focusing on for some time in developing our own system agenda. David mapped the challenge for us when he observed that “Leaders of learning schools constantly inquire to and take action to improve the achievement and well being of ALL their students. They support and challenge their teachers and the school community to do the same”. Failure is not an option for our schools.