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.