Why is education reform so hard?

I recently attended the Whitlam Institute Seminar to debate the question of ‘why education reform is so hard?’

The three speakers, David Bartlett MP , Hon Nick Greiner and Professor Brian Galligan from the University of Melbourne all gave similar reasons as to why education reform is needed.

The perspectives presented called for greater transparency around outcomes, higher levels of accountability for schools, a focus on the early years of learning and VET pathways.

I find these forums stimulating and frustrating.  There is certainly stretch in the propositions presented, yet there is rarely time to depth the issues.  I suppose this is the nature of the beast.

I found myself getting increasingly annoyed – not at the presenters but at the proposition itself, which influenced and constrained their responses.  I don’t think the issue is about reform.  For me, the reason why education reform is so hard is because we’re asking the wrong questions.

As Marc Prensky intelligently asks  ‘why continue to reform an outdated system?’ You need an entirely new approach to schooling.

For the past several decades, education around the world has been undergoing some sort of reform.  Successive governments continue to pronounce reform and go as far as introducing a ‘revolution’.

The resignations of two high profile US reformers late last year – Joel Klein in New York and Michelle Rhee in the District of Columbia is further evidence that reform is not producing the transformation of learning and teaching.

On the home front our schools are still operating from a 20th century model of education which, as we know, has seen little change over time.

I think a more powerful question to ask is ‘what is the nature of schooling in today’s world?’ or even ‘how do we need to rethink schools in a contemporary world?’

We need to engage in a broad conversation and collectively build a new narrative for schooling that is focussed on how students learn best in today’s world.

The prevailing culture of structures, industrial conditions and competitiveness does not serve contemporary schooling well.  We live in a connected world where schooling is but one option for learning.  We live in a world where schooling now extends beyond the traditional boundaries of the building and the school day.  In short, we need to move from a narrative of schooling to a narrative of life-long learning.

I’m excited by how school communities will respond to this challenge because in time, we will see widespread innovation.  The profession will accept greater responsibility for shaping this narrative and policies will support not stunt this new approach to learning and teaching.

2 thoughts on “Why is education reform so hard?

  1. Absolutely agree – the wrong question and a never ending discussion that doesn’t seem to lead to any productive action. I’d rather sketch out a shared vision for learning or education or whatever we want to call it – starting with a green field site. Then perhaps think back to how we get to our vision from where we are now.

    While we hang on to traditional notions of assessment, curriculum, and the relationship between teacher and learner and I suspect we will only have discussions and nothing much will change. So I share your frustration with some of the discussion, but also your sense of excitement about what liberated learners and teachers might achieve.

  2. I agree with the ideas that we are stuck in the old models of schooling. I work in the creative arts and trying to get kids to be creative in the 2 hours of class you have timetabled in is the greatest challenge for me. I believe that most of the experiences I gained as an artist, and the most important lessons I have learned about teaching and being an artist were learned DESPITE my time at school.

    With the focus of education politics on standardised curriculum and testing, systems are forced to cater for our clients (especially yours Greg) as what parents perceive they want is good results compared to other students, and other aspects of education are good but not the priority. In my profession what UAI you get has very little effect on further arts education…. a body of work or audition is what will get you to your desired goals.

    With role models that left school early (James Morrison, many of the jazz greats, as well as artists that never completed schools) the focus of an arts education should be in creating professional opportunities for students, not some token 50 minutes of class time.

    The more I teach in the schooling system the more I realise that being a teacher of creative arts is a good income that will support my craft outside the system I work in.

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