At the start of each school year, our school leadership teams gather to reflect on the work and remind ourselves of our why. A key focus for our system leaders this year is school attendance. We need every student showing up every day in order for them to receive a quality and relevant educational experience. We often place the reasons for poor attendance at the feet of students when in reality student engagement and quality learning lie with teachers and the school community. More often than not, it’s the educational institutions not the individuals who have lost their way.
That’s the point Angelo Kourtis, Vice-President (People and Advancement) from Western Sydney University was making when he spoke last week at our system leadership day. Angelo has been deeply involved in the rebranding of WSU, which he says has been driven by passion and philosophical underpinnings. Those underpinnings are built on the ideas of Socrates and classical philosophy and what it means to be a life-long learner and critical thinker.
According to Angelo, universities have diverted away from a classical understanding of an education, which is to bring out one’s gifts and capabilities for the good of society to a narrative of preparing graduates for the world of work. At its heart, education is the process of developing insight, discovery and understanding and of making sense of what one has learned. This applies as much to a preschooler as it does to a university student.
In an age of globalisation and rapid technological change, Angelo says the needs of students are changing, the curriculum in the Australian context is simply not meeting those needs. He lamented that content had become king in universities but stated it is only through context that we can teach the importance of agency, advocacy and critical thinking.
Angelo believes universities must challenge and change the economic rationalist thinking that has diluted the higher education landscape. He says universities need to work in partnership to create alternatives to the current archaic model including the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR), which is a reductive system of measuring human potential.
The challenges Angelo named are equally relevant to K-12 schooling and call for a prodigious exercise of our collective imaginations. We are being challenged in the context of a knowledge age that is characterised by unprecedented and unremitting change to move from knowing to thinking, from economic rationalism to enlightenment. What will guide us now is the sharing of creative ideas and the exercise of critical discernment based on an educational vision that exists to engage all students, bring forth their gifts and create citizen scholars.
Such an aspiration is often dismissed as being nebulous or interesting but of no relevance in a world dominated by a competitive paradigm which shapes a utilitarian view. In fact, I believe it is quite the opposite – this is the hard edge, the intellectual edge that demands deep thought and rigour. We refer to it as learning.