A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to chat with Yong Zhao. Zhao is Presidential Chair and associate dean for Global and Online Education at the University of Oregon. He is also the author of World Class Learners – a must read for educators.
The book according to Zhao is “really about the human dimensions. It is about respecting children as human beings and about supporting, not suppressing, their passion, curiosity, and talent. If schools can do just that, our children will become global, creative and entrepreneurial.”
There’s that word entrepreneurial again. I referred to re-defining the role of teacher as entrepreneurs in today’s world but Zhao goes further in explaining why we need a new paradigm in which the entrepreneurial spirit is nurtured in students and schools become global enterprises.
It may seem like a radical idea especially to parents but Zhao presents a valid argument as to why everyone in the 21st century needs to be entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurial is simply a new way of thinking about knowledge work and knowledge skills. Zhao sees entrepreneurial as the ‘desire to solve problems creatively’ and says that creativity, curiosity, imagination, risk taking and collaboration are the foundation of entrepreneurship.
Like Ken Robinson and Linda Darling-Hammond, Zhao argues that the traditional educational paradigm reduces “the possibilities of cultivating uniqueness by forcing children into the same sausage maker.” In the age where technology has enabled us to personalise just about everything – why shouldn’t schooling be personalised?
The new paradigm proposed is one that expands and enhances what students are interested in and want to be. Zhao calls this the freedom to learn. It unshackles children by allowing them to self-select what they want to learn and then how to use the available resources. Within this learning environment, Zhao sees students being able to select from a diverse group of adult talents – who serve as models, mentors, counsellors, teachers, assistants, collaborators etc. Such a model requires flexible structures and opportunities for students to actively participate in the decision making process. Zhao admits that the new paradigm presents greater challenges for teachers than the traditional stand and deliver method of teaching but the opportunities are rich.
In addition to cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit, schools must also cultivate the skills necessary for today’s world. The final chapters are devoted to this fascinating idea of school as a global enterprise using the example of High Tech High where students are not consumers (of information) but makers, creators and entrepreneurs. This is referred to as product-oriented learning.
Zhao hopes schools will be able to create services and products for other educational institutions such as tutorials and the global market. By allowing students to own and manage their projects, Zhao argues they become “engaged in entrepreneurial activities and provided the support that can help them become globally competent.” In this way, students and teachers not only learn by doing but are doing what interests them.
Too often when these ideas surface, the response is, “yeah that’s all right for the business world but schooling is different.” I think it’s time to jettison such narrow-minded and false dualities. The work of education is a work of business. Schooling has business processes, relationships and procedures that may be referred to differently but ultimately they are very similar.