There seems to be two camps when it comes to education – the reformers and the innovators who are adapters. Like the US, we spend millions of dollars trying to fix the system with programatic solutions that reflect a 20th century understanding of schooling, when the real problem is as Prensky writes ‘what is taught and how it’s taught’.
By contrast, countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Canada are adapters. Despite being a small nation, Singapore is an education powerhouse. As the school principal quoted in Friedman’s article says they make connections between “what world am I living in,” “where is my country trying to go in that world” and, therefore, “what should I teach in fifth-grade science.”
Singapore is Bransford theory in action: context (world around us), connections (where is our country trying to go) and meta-cognition (what do our students need to know/learn/do).
What is evident from these articles is that Singapore has built its system around contemporary education whereas countries like the US and Australia have built the education around a 20th century system. As a result, students continue to increasingly disengage from learning; aren’t sufficiently challenged or are working towards achievement levels determined by high-stakes testing.
In his state of the union address last month, President Obama told Americans they needed to “out-educate and out-innovate” as a result of a rapidly changing world and its impact on global economies.
President Obama said ‘nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. So, yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real.’
He went on to say that ‘when a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance. But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top. To all 50 states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”
So the impetus driving US education reform is not relevancy but a competitive global job market. What is absent here is any reference to learning. Learning that develops students’ capacities for reasoning, thinking and knowing.
In his critique of the American education system, Prensky has proffered his solution for creating schools of relevance. This includes introducing a cross-disciplinary and integrated curriculum that focusses on the 3Cs: character and passion, communication and problem solving and creation and skills.
Again, it goes back to asking the right questions – how is this relevant to today’s learners and today’s world? Does ‘what and how we teach reflect current and future realities’?
One of the most confronting quotes in Prensky’s essay is from school superintendent David Engle: “Every student is damaged or cheated out of a more productive future by our continued adherence to an old, defunct system design.”
Unfortunately, there is no blueprint for making schooling relevant in today’s world because the technology we use and the global challenges we face have never existed before. We need to value the lessons of the past but not waste time and money re-creating it. We need to consider the competition but not be distracted by it. We need to design learning experiences for today’s learners not for adults.
How many of us are adapters, how many are prepared to step out of the existing comfort zones and dare to make real change?