Navigating the space between educational paradigms
Many times on this blog (and basically any chance I get to speak to groups) I have spoken about the need for educational change (see a particularly ranty presentation here). I know I am not a lone voice, in fact I get the sense that there is a veritable tsunami building up behind what initially felt like ripples and then waves of educators talking about this very issue. People like Sir Ken Robinson popularised the notion that schools need to change with his TED talk How Schools are Killing Creativity and Changing Educational Paradigms. This was echoed and reinforced by the work of Sugata Mitra with his hole in the wall work and his TED talk Build a School in the Cloud and I know we all cheered for that Logan LaPlante for whom Hackschooling made happy. Locally we have a growing number of educational leaders calling for change with NZCER writing an excellent report Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching - a New Zealand perspective and just this year we saw the launch of Dr Jane Gilbert's AUT Edge Work - Educational Futures Network. I am also proud to be part of school and team who are trialling different ways that we can better meet the needs of our learners in the 21st Century (check out Maurie or any of team's blogs to see what we are up to at HPSS).
I don't actually think the challenge is understanding why we need to change education or even what we need to do in order to change it. For me the central challenge is that we appear to be a bit stuck in the space between. The space between education's past and education's future. I suspect this period will be looked back on as that uncomfortably pimply pubescent period where we transitioned, painfully and unnecessarily slowly, from an industrial age education system to a more agile knowledge age model. But at present, we are neither there nor here. Actually who am I kidding. Plenty of people are still back there. And happily so. Some of us have hurled ourself into the unknown whilst many others have stuck with comfortable old 'there' and are simply dangling pedagogical toes over the precipice whilst really clinging to the industrial mainland.
All around us are examples of businesses and industries who have made the transition - think about how you used to book travel, how you used to do your banking or share written communication - there are so many examples of change, because industries have to change, if you don't, you simply lose customers - in business you evolve or die.
However, compulsory schooling doesn't seem to work that way. For many, there is what is perceived as an intellectual argument for change that might make them feel a little uneasy maintaining the status quo. However as long as we have a system where schools can be positively antiquated yet publicly lauded as educational successes for hothousing students focusing on little more than assessment and results results results, then we are unlikely to see any sizeable change in the near future. I mean there are days when the NZ Herald or Stuff's education section feels like the educational equivalent of Antiques Roadshow! Add to this that for many, which school they attend is not their choice, and even if it was, there is so little choice that you are probably limited to choosing between co-ed, single sex and/or maybe religious or not. Then there is the issue that criteria for 'a good school' is so outdated that it seems based on little more than decile and league tables combined. In fact the more antiquated the school the more highly it seems to be regarded.
Be a pioneer and make change anyway and you run the risk of being seen as risking student success and making a generation of students guinea pigs. Irregardless of the fact that we are all failing our young people in numerous other ways with our national focus on results and little else. I actually believe we can move forward and deliver a better educational model AND have our students succeed at qualifications such as NCEA, I just think it's a shame that there is little enticing others to risk making change when the only thing that seems to matter to many are results which quite possibly have little or any relevance as an indicator for longterm success in the 21st century. Add to this the issue that if we do change schooling we must have the confidence of our students and community and often for parents their only reference point is their own education. Even if they actually didn't succeed in that system or even enjoy it, they are hugely nervous if we depart from a traditional school model and what the school down the road is doing. So as well as working hard to change and improve educational models we also have the additional job of translating and PR, "selling" one paradigm to those that came from another. This translation needs to occur for the educator as well. I know I have often faltered, knowing full well that we must make the change but at times terrified at the thought of heading off into such a new terrain with a map or guide book.
Add to this the issue that entering a new paradigm actually requires extra resourcing. At HPSS we are attempting all kinds of creative solutions to try and make future-focused learning happen on a budget and resourcing model that is well and truly based on an industrial age equation of one teacher to 25-30 students teaching students eight discrete learning areas. I would argue that if our government really wanted innovation they would reward those that are doing it with a different resourcing formula that allowed for greater planning and professional learning to reflect that we are no longer simply serving up tweaked iterations of what we have serving up in schools for the last 25, 50 or 100 years. Change takes time, effective change takes a whole lot of learning.
Personally if I was Jo or Joanne Blogs I would be way less concerned that schools like HPSS are "experimenting" with new approaches and be way more concerned that many schools are not experimenting at all and that in fact they are being celebrating for engaging in damaging, high stress approaches to preparing students for little more that assessment success. That scares the hell out of me.
So what is the answer? I suspect we have to "feel the fear and do it anyway". I mean, human kind didn't create cars, learn to fly or fly to the moon by being safe and happily living in the past. I just hope we can find a way to have more, if not all educators leave the past behind us as well and for communities to demand the change rather than fear it.
Finally, I also hope this documentary comes to NZ - it might just encourage more of us to navigate the space between educational paradigms - the space between the past and the future. Before it's too late.
Most Likely to Succeed Trailer from One Potato Productions on Vimeo.