I was interested to read a recent report that Singapore schools will ease their focus on exam results in order to foster teacher/student innovation and creativity. Singapore’s authorities have recognised that blitzing school exams may reflect a good technical understanding but it doesn’t guarantee a creative or innovative mindset – a key ingredient in the knowledge economy.
Although Singapore has been at the top of its game in terms of educational excellence particularly in the international testing arena, there is a growing consensus that an overemphasis on exams takes away from the real purpose of learning – discovery. A director with Singapore’s Ministry of Education was quoted as saying “Society’s mindset also needs to shift over time, to celebrate a multitude of talent and the successes achieved via varied paths.”
That shift is the acknowledgment that schools cannot operate the same way they have done for decades. Schooling has to evolve just as societies evolve. What is ironic is that we live in an age where technology and innovation touches our lives on a daily basis and yet we are still happy for today’s young people to receive the same education and in the same manner we did. Schools largely continue to remain in some kind of stasis.
Three short months ago, we had in excess of 60,000 students in NSW sitting pen and paper Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams in rows of desks in school. What’s changed in fifty years? Very little and that’s something we shouldn’t be celebrating. Singapore’s rethink illustrates why we need to think differently about how we educate today’s learners as well as how we measure success.
Last year I spoke at a conference of several hundred South American teachers and school leaders about the need to transform schooling for today’s world and today’s learners. While there is general assent to this proposition, all too often the feedback is that changing the nature of schooling is too difficult. Of course it will be difficult, transformation requires everything about schooling to change. Dealing with the naysayers, the skeptics, resisters and frightened is the territory you have buy into on the transformation journey.
As I said at the time, change starts with the individual leader and teacher. Don’t wait for others to show the way or you’ll be left in Godot’s world. If every teacher in every school community introduced just one innovative practice, think of the number of examples of contemporary teaching practice we could explore.
Manual labour was hard work in the agrarian age; innovative schooling is hard work in a knowledge age but that’s where we are in history. Progress begins by doing things differently and better.
Countries like Singapore and Finland are recognising there is more than one mountain to climb besides the international testing one. If the innovation mountain won’t come to our teachers, then it’s time we found ways of moving our teachers to the innovation mountain.