Some hard truths

I have written and spoken over the past twelve months about the challenges facing schooling in today’s world.  As we begin a new school year those challenges have not diminished, in fact they have increased. And they will continue to do so unless the  education community faces up to some hard truths.

I still maintain the biggest risk facing schooling today is irrelevancy. Most schools are stuck in a kind of parallel universe which either denies or ignores the rapidly changing world around them.

Of course there are innovative schools that are pushing the boundaries but these schools are either viewed with suspicion or explained away as experimental instead of experiential.

The industrial model of schooling prevails in most corners of the world so learning is still a sifting and sorting process of students for a world that no longer exists. As the digital age transforms every aspect of our lives, most schools are peddling hard to maintain an irrelevant status quo.

An unfortunate by-product is that teachers continue to work hard to ensure the industrial model succeeds and often feel under-valued for the efforts they make on students behalf. The teaching profession is sorely in need of liberation!

Intelligent discussions on educational change are dragged off course by trivial things – lower teacher student ratios, what content is important, school improvement plans that have little impact on really challenging students.  We need to look elsewhere if we are to move out of this parallel universe.

These sorts of approaches are only barriers to change – they maintain structures that stifle innovation. The barriers that protected schools from the modern world for so long have broken down.

If nothing else this year, be sure to read Linda Darling-Hammond’s latest book, The Flat World and Education especially pages 237 to 239. I hope this book propels many into the 21st century.

Schools have long enjoyed a competitive position that they can no longer demand  or expect to maintain. In a rapidly developing mosaic for learning in a connected world,  schools are now just one of many nodes for learning. In this new world of diversity and choice how are we going to ensure quality and avoid mediocrity, information overload and banality?

How are today’s schools going to position themselves to become the architect of new ways of learning and teaching? What has to change, what has to be done differently? Indeed what is the work of a teacher in today’s world? These are the powerful questions for all of us in 2011.

I don’t know the answers to these but I do know the answers lie in every school’s capacity to continuously reinvent themselves through innovation and research. Schools have to strive for excellence even if it means being different and embrace change, not avoid it.

We can be very confident that we know what doesn’t work, and we have ample data on why this is so. Those one-off stand alone initiatives focusing on teacher control, external monitoring, new curriculum, programmatic solutions suck the oxygen out of schools and stifle the drive and passion teachers have for improving every student’s learning.

Relevance has to be the rule not the exception.

4 thoughts on “Some hard truths

  1. Hi Greg,

    This is indeed a thought-provoking post for a new decade. I fully agree with your point that the institution (and all within it) is working hard to maintain the status quo amidst what has now become a digital revolution. At times, we’re all guilty of this – teachers, principals, systems and even kids – thinking that the industrial model is the tried-and-true approach, that the internet is a scary “fad,” that content is king and/or that technology is a tack-on to the curriculum. To some extent we are all insitutionalised – to the extent that anyone can be when the bases of the institution is uniformity, effeciency and, above all, technical “control” (just consider the many ways that teachers use technology in order to control and maintain a didactic approach or “deliver” content).

    I think we all have to take a good hard look at ourselves if we’re going to achieve what you envisage. Preconceptions, prejudices, ingrained beliefs and so-called self-evident truths need scrutiny. Innovators need to be elevated and included in the big discussions. Power structures can and should be open to question.

    Cheers and have a great start to 2011,


  2. You hit the points well Michael. I understand how most teachers feel about the work they do. No matter how much time and effort they give there is the continual pressure to improve student learning.
    Rather than working harder at existing approaches why not try new ways? This is the nub of the problem, and it is a problem not only for teachers, but for Federal and State policy makers, parents, the business community and Education bureaucracy.
    Have a look at the White Paper ( on Education that the UK government has just published in which it outlines the “new” strategies to improve schools. There is not one new strategy in the whole paper, everything in the has been tried before, and has failed! You only have to read John Hattie’s work to see why this is the case. All it will mean is more work for teachers and their school communities with little to show for their efforts and little teacher satisfaction.
    When will this madness stop?

  3. Just had a skim of the first twenty pages and I very much take your point, Greg. What baffles me about the situation in the UK is the repeated focus on standardised, high-stakes testing and so-called increased “accountability” while the country continues to fall in OECD measures (in fact from a research point of view it almost seems like a clear correlation between the two elements). One would hope that our government is likely to learn from their failures, but with all the rhetoric that flies around in the name of political point-scoring, I’m far from sure on that one! 🙂

    Thanks for the discussion and I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on these issues throughout 2011,


  4. Hello Greg,

    I found this post and its focus on relevance interesting as it tied in with some thoughts I have been processing lately. I recently started a blog in order to engage with some of the issues we all seem to be encountering. My ideas are somewhat ‘small picture’ at the moment so it’s been good to read your posts and get an idea of what’s going on in the wider community.


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