I RECENTLY heard an interview with a Sudanese refugee teacher now living in Australia relating his experiences teaching in northern Sudan. If a child made a mistake in her learning, he was expected to hit her across the face or hands with a stick to exact discipline.
Formal education is still practiced in Australia that basically subscribes to this disciplinary notion – without the beatings, of course. Its approach is head-down hard work, rote learning and standardised assessment, with students working individually, religiously and silently through the prescribed texts, heeding teacher wisdom and receiving a strict grading that promises the reward of university entry. Education is conducted as a refuge from the real world, separate from all of its distraction. It’s recognised that this approach may only be effective for one child out of fifty, but at least that one person will be brilliant at what they do and achieve.
This approach is clearly out of step with the urgent needs of the 21st century.
Valarie Hannon published a paper ‘Only Connect!‘: A new paradigm for learning innovation in the 21st century in 2009 at the height of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).
She argues that the need for a new paradigm is motivated by the failure of the “disgraced” business and financial leaders who caused the GFC and who are but the successful products of our schooling system. Time indeed for change, with a new vision of education “based on community, equity and values of spiritual awareness and reverence for the planet”.
Teachers are preparing young people to do jobs that as yet are uninvented, without names, with unimaginable technology, which will exist in a context where humans will be struggling to sustain life on earth.
Teachers, she suggests, need to be expert in pedagogy:
Far from the role of teacher becoming redundant as learning becomes democratised, it is likely that the skill set of the professional educator will shift towards expertise in pedagogy: understanding with precision how people learn, and how learning opportunities need to be designed to facilitate this process.
The pedagogical style motivating student “engagement” will need to:
- systematically and continuously build into the learning design a range of opportunities for learners and teachers to take on different roles
- systematically incorporate contributions from a diverse set of sources, and
- ensure that all young learners are (personally) mentored and coached.
Another educationist sharing a similar view is Charles Leadbeater. In What’s Next? 21 Ideas for 21st Century Learning. Central to his concept of learning is relationship. This has four key aspects:
- participation – to encourage children to become participants in their own learning, setting objectives, choosing the tools they want to use to learn and ways to present their work.
- recognition – children need to be recognised for who they are, where they come from, their goals, contributions and achievements.
- care, safety and security
- motivation – requires building up confidence and capability; setting realistic but stretching goals; widening aspiration and ambition; setting structured challenges; offering relevant rewards and recognition.
Sir Ken Robinson also sees a total disconnect between current education practices and the individual needs and capacities of the child. His view is articulated in this video of the presentation he gave in 2006. The presentation itself is a excellent lesson in the use of techniques that so powerfully convey knowledge: deep theoretical concepts interlaced with humour and storytelling (and no powerpoints!).
These three people inspire powerful antidotes to the disciplinarians, whose system has been hegemonic since public education began, and which will surely fail to solve the great social and environmental challenges of the 21st century – inequality and climate change.