The evolution of schooling

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.


2 thoughts on “The evolution of schooling

  1. Totally agree with your reflection on the Singapore refocus towards innovation and creativity. It also is worth considering both Finland as having an almost monoculture reflected in their student demographics.Although the same cannot be said for Singapore it is worth noting that there are an abundance of International schools who largely offer either IB(International Baccalaureate) or the ACARA Syllabus. The Singapore Government Schools those whose exam results are again reported on Internationally cater again for the largely single culture being taught in schools.On the other hand our schools especially those in large metropolitan areas such as Sydney have large multicultural student demographics, whose language,literacy and numeracy skills are diverse and therefore our exam results reflect this.Apoint that appears often to be largely misunderstood or not even mentioned in the media reporting.

  2. One contributor to Singapore’s success is the fact that the system saw the value in building the capacity of all schools via building professional learning communities. Between 2006 and 2009, PISA/OECD assessment results demonstrated significant student growth in literacy. This was done by matching higher performing schools with lower capacity schools to work together in a non-judgemental relationship where key teachers with strong capacity support the learning of other teachers. Their model in essence is similar to the cluster system we have established in CEDP and other similar projects various schools and individuals are conducting.
    I agree with Greg that the individual teacher or leader needs to be bold enough to trial ideas and develop innovative learning agendas, is something we need, however more than that, we need to ensure we bring others along. I know in my own context, this is indeed something that has been established through the implementation of of one of our new approaches to learning: Big History Project. Initially it was a small cohort of teachers involved in fantastic, challenging (for staff and students), and energetic learning events. The effect has been that over two years, we have half experienced (BHP innovators) and half new staff joining into each practical day. Staff are constantly asking how they can become involved particularly when they hear staff saying how amazing it is to have the level of engagement and development of critical thinking among a diverse student group. The staff also echo the extensive personal learning they have in having the opportunity to be innovative and creative. Consequently the experience gained has seen our learning events become extraordinary memorable and extensive learning events, whereby students want every day to be similar in structure.
    Staff have developed fantastic collaborative relationships across KLAs and aim to use the innovative and creative approach in their own classrooms. Often the new staff finish one of our days stating that they want to emulate that type of student engagement in their own classrooms..thus begins the buds of changed classroom practice, improved learning whilst aiming to develop the whole person.

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