Why conservatism is failing students

I was interviewed for the Weekend Australia (23 September 2017) on a range of issues including the misuse of NAPLAN, the irrelevancy of the Higher School Certificate and the need for a more purposeful and personalised curriculum. Understandably, these views (which are not inconsistent with others championing educational change) were not given the thumbs up by all readers. In fact, a many felt compelled to respond, questioning my professional competence (and even my sanity!) to suggest that schools need to be responsive to the changing times.

Emotions aside, we need to be able to respond as a profession to the challenges of schooling in today’s world. Firstly, there is and always will be a need for meaningful assessments that provide constructive feedback. It is formative assessment that teachers not only gauge how effective they are but give students an understanding of where they are and where they need to go. Secondly, we need a curriculum that is less rigid but no less rigorous – a curriculum that allows students to learn through inquiry and trial-and-error rather than the installation of facts that are removed from their own interests and reality. Thirdly, there will always be the need for explicit teaching and teacher-guided lessons but not to the exclusion of student-voice in the learning and teaching. Fourthly, the profession needs to take greater responsibility for shaping and delivering the learning agenda, not the public or politicians. As Pasi Sahlberg said at the Anne D Clarke Lecture in August this year, there is far more professional freedom and autonomy in Finland because teachers are trusted by society to do what is best for their students and their local school community.

Andreas Schleicher, director-general of the OECD’s Directorate for Education has written a sobering piece in the Australian recently in which he stated:

The difference between education systems that are open to the world and ready to learn from other experiences, and those that feel threatened by being exposed or being left behind or to alternative ways of thinking and working is likely to be a key differentiator in the educational progress that we will see around the world.

The world is indifferent to tradition…unforgiving of frailty and ignorant of custom or practice. Success will go to those individuals and nations that are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. The task of governments is to help citizens rise to the challenges.

Sadly, it is clear that there is that is a deep conservatism running through society based on a fear of change. Everyone with an interest in education owe it to every student in every Australian school to keep dialogue open about what good schools look like now and into the future.

One thought on “Why conservatism is failing students

  1. Climate science and education are two areas where people seem to believe that their opinion is better than people with qualifications and experience . Of course, outside feedback can taken on board, but when the outside opinion is based on the idea that everything was once fine and it’s only change that has led to all our problems, then it’s of little value.

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