Despite the increasing democratisation of information arising from access to the internet, the tightly-controlled mainstream media continues to fuel a narrow view of the world professing the need for education to return to the good old days. Isn’t it bad enough that we have climate change deniers in the face of mounting scientific evidence; but to have educational change deniers, the likes of Kevin Donnelly, being given an unopposed platform is a source of frustration for educators trying to make a difference to student learning. We are being fed a negative and polarising view of schooling which does nothing to respond to the growing evidence in support of a radical transformation in education. If the good old days were so good, why, for the last 40 years, have we been spending more and more money on improving a failing system?
Thankfully last night reason and rationality won out. We had our faith restored after listening to Emeritus Professor Patrick Griffin deliver the 2015 Ann D Clark lecture. Patrick has spent four decades deeply immersed in the work of good theory, practice and evidence. He is a leading educational thinker and believes we have a prime opportunity to do something disruptive when it comes to student assessment at a national level.
The digital reality of today’s world cannot be ignored despite many educational institutions and government resisting disruptive change. Yet as Patrick told us last night, change must be systemic and seismic if students are to learn the skills needed to transition from factory to office to internet. The new literates are the ones who will be able to challenge the traditional producers of information (Murdoch, Turner et al). They will have the 21st century skills (4Cs – creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinker) that are critical to respond successfully to a changing work, social and technological environment.
The tendency has been to focus exclusively on literacy and numeracy to the detriment of the other skills. The internet has paved the way for new ways of assessing skills like collaborative problem-solving even though more work needs to be done on how we assess creativity.
Patrick has been involved in the assessment of children’s cognitive and social skills while playing online video games. He also cited changes to NAPLAN testing in 2017 with the replacement of the single test to short tests that will be able to match the ability of the student to the difficulty of the task.
The theory behind this derives from the work of Danish mathematician Georg Rasch who developed an algorithm to predict the probability of a student’s ability and success; American educational psychologist Robert Glaser who looked at the increasing stages of development and the stage in which a student stalls in their performance and Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development.
As Patrick explained there are massive changes in technology available for assessing student learning and if we can link it to every child’s zone of proximal development, we have the capability at a classroom level to move every child forward every year. We really are at a watershed moment in how we assess and teach these 21st century skills but the revolution must come from within.
Patrick encourages all educators to become the new Karl Marx of the 21st century; to become the new literates that embrace disruptive activity. Unchaining the inherent curiosity of children through increasingly complex tasks can be done by empowering teachers with the resources and strategies to identify where students are in terms of their progressive/proximal development and working with them to move students forward.
Patrick’s work and message is more persuasive than the purveyors of an old paradigm. It is up to the teaching profession to develop a new narrative and a new framework for interpreting growth in today’s world. It is up to the profession to educate parents and challenge the deeply regressive narratives around schooling in a knowledge age.