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When the Principal of Auckland Grammar speaks we should listen. For isn’t Auckland Grammar the the best school in New Zealand? The property prices in the Grammar zone certainly indicate the high esteem in which the school is held, with families paying whatever price is necessary to give their sons the best education possible. But how do we know it is the best education possible?
Words like legacy, tradition, heritage and the pursuit of academic excellence fit Auckland Grammar like no other. But is it enough? Is the ability to reproduce memorized information in a time-pressured exam situation the best we can do? Is Auckland Grammar the shining light in the encroaching darkness of ignorance, or are they the stubborn bastion of an outdated view of the world?
"We are going to be going into a deep, dark place in what I see as a lack of responsibility by the adults for the children in this conversation…I frankly believe that the removal of NCEA Level 1 in the manner that they are describing it - literacy and numeracy and even having a conversation about does financial and civic literacy fit into that definition of literacy - is a very, very dangerous start." - (NZ Herald, 28 May 2018)
When a student speaks we should listen. For aren’t they our future? Aren’t they the ones that are experiencing first-hand the education we are so forthrightly fostering on them? Or does their opinion really not matter? Some might argue that teenagers lack the experience, insight and perspective needed to make judgements about the quality of the education system. But maybe that is just another outdated view of the world.
Students are excited and passionate about learning. They care about the world. They care about their place in the world, and they will be the ones most impacted by the rapid changes taking place in the world.
“Ask students how food production will drastically change in the next 15 years, how the internet of things will likely influence the way our future world operates, how rapid advances in artificial intelligence, robotics and drones will drastically change entire industries and most will struggle to provide a meaningful answer. That isn’t our fault. We aren’t taught or shown it in school. This is a travesty for us students and a sad indictment on our education system. But, to be fair, most teachers and educators aren’t aware of these things either.” - (www.Education Central.co.nz, 28 May 2018)
What is the goal of education? Is it about producing work-ready young people, able to be highly productive employees that will improve our international competitiveness? Or is it about equipping young people with the skills, attributes and characteristics that will enable them to learn, and keep on learning? Or is it about developing young people to be active, engaged and informed citizens?
Or is it all of the above? Should the goal of education be to prepare young people for life, work and citizenship? If so, then what models of learning are needed? What paradigms need to change? Teaching only for test success is surely not going to cut it any longer.
“We are still trying to ‘tweak’ an outdated model - akin to believing you can transform a 1915 Model T Ford into a 2015 Ford Focus by adjusting bits of it, one or two at a time. The reality remains - the fundamental way secondary schools are structured for learning have changed very little in the past century. We still maintain a model that was designed for a world that no longer exists and based on theories and beliefs that have no place in today’s world” - National Business Review, 29 May 2015)
What are the skills our young people need to be equipped with? How do we know? Can we examine the skills needed in the past to inform us about the skills needed in the future? It is certainly something which adults are more comfortable with. We understand curriculum, subjects and exams. We understand percentage marks. But is that still the best we can do?
We can’t all create our own private schools like Elon Musk, and we probably don’t want to. Not if we want to foster citizenship, social cohesion, understanding and tolerance. But maybe we do need to seriously think about what and how we teach.
“In order for people to keep up, adapt, and work alongside effectively with highly capable machines, they will require a very different set of skills. So the skill transitions are going to be quite substantial. That’s why we’re having a conversation now, and we’re starting to have a conversation about retraining and reskilling, especially for mid-career workers, who may have grown up in one environment with a certain set of skills and are now having to move into new occupations. Or, even if they’re in the same occupation, that occupation now requires a higher level of skills in order to be valued and continue to be effective.” - (McKinsey Global Institute, December 2017)
5. Prophets of Doom.
Near the turn of the 20th Century, the world was grappling with a seemingly insurmountable problem – horse dung. The horse was the epicenter of economic activity, with the complete dominance of the horse continuing on for the foreseeable future. A worldwide meeting of urban planners in 1898 collapsed due to the absence of any possible solutions.
What is our horse? Is it exams? Is it assessment? Is it the belief that the most important tools a teacher should employ are control and authority? Is it timetable? Is it single isolated subjects? Is it qualifications? Are we unable to envision a possible future without our much beloved ‘horse’?
“The problem did indeed seem intractable. The larger and richer that cities became, the more horses they needed to function. The more horses, the more manure. Writing in the Times of London in 1894, one writer estimated that in 50 years every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure. Moreover, all these horses had to be stabled, which used up ever-larger areas of increasingly valuable land. And as the number of horses grew, ever-more land had to be devoted to producing hay to feed them (rather than producing food for people), and this had to be brought into cities and distributed—by horse-drawn vehicles. It seemed that urban civilization was doomed.” - (Foundation for Economic Education, FEE, 01 September 2004)
Finland, with a population of about five and a half million people, often ranks amongst the top 5 or 10 countries in the world for education. Why? What are they doing right and can we learn anything from their approach to education?
One interesting characteristic is the lack of standardized testing. Teachers are instead trained to issue their own tests. While it might make it difficult for the media to produce league tables, or for parents to decide what is the ‘best’ school, it does seem to foster greater collaboration and cooperation between schools. We may not hold this to be important, but it is a feature of the Finnish system that is working for them.
“There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town.” - (Smithsonian.com, September 2011)
The most watched TED talk remains the talk given by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006. Entitled “Do schools kill creativity?” Sir Ken Robinson contends that we don’t grow into creativity, we instead grow out of it. Or, to put it more correctly, we get creativity educated out of us.
A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum suggested 16 skills that students need for 21st Century. Along with foundational literacies there are competencies such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication and yes, creativity. So how does our education system, how do our schools, help our students develop these competencies? How do we create the conditions for creativity to flourish?
“And my contention is, all kids have tremendous talents. And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly. So I want to talk about education and I want to talk about creativity. My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status…Now, I don’t mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong. And we run our companies like this. We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make.” - (TED Talks, Ken Robinson, TED 2006)
8. Innovation Ready.
Tony Wagner, a Harvard education specialist, believes that current education programmes do not consistently add the values and teach the skills that matter most in the marketplace. There is at least one New Zealand provider that would wholeheartedly disagree with Tony, and that is Young Enterprise.
I am unashamedly biased in favour of enterprise education. One of the most powerful learning experiences I have been involved with is the Young Enterprise Pitch or Dragons Den activity. A group of students pitching their idea in 5 minutes to a panel of adults. 21st Century competencies abound. As does the surge in confidence and belief after students achieve what they thought they couldn’t do.
“Today,” he said via e-mail, “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’” - (New York Times, 30 March 2013)
9. Wanted: Teachers.
Of course, we cannot discuss education without discussing the most vital element, teachers. And although using the PPTA as a source may risk cries of bias, the statistics being presented are well worth examining. In New Zealand we have more and more students being taught by less and less teachers, teachers that are all aging.
And we are not alone. It doesn’t require an extensive search to identify an alarming global trend of a teacher shortage, even a severe one. Which begs the question, where are we going to get more teachers from? We can’t very easily import them from other countries. There’s likely to be a shortage of teachers in those countries too.
“Student numbers are growing at a rapid rate – there will be 10 percent more secondary school students by 2025. It’s affecting students right now; there aren't enough teachers. Four out of every five secondary school principals have had to cancel classes, cut courses and leave vacancies unfilled because of the shortages. New teacher numbers are dropping; the past 10 years have seen a 38 percent decrease in the number of new secondary teachers graduating. Teachers are getting older; the aging teacher workforce is making the teacher shortage even worse. More than one in five secondary teachers is over 60.” - (www.bringoutthebest.nz)
10. Better Work Stories.
In hopefully an acceptable break from TOP 10 convention, I thought to finish by sharing a few real examples from my teaching career of the creativity and genius of our New Zealand young people. All of which are true…
A Year 13 Economics class in Mt Roskill studying Monetary Policy…
Teacher: “Do you know why the Reserve Bank Governor gets such a high salary?”
Students: no response
Teacher: “Because of all of the bank notes he has to sign.”
Students: still no response.
Teacher: “You’ll see his signature on all of our currency. He sits at his desk with a big pile of unsigned banknotes on one side and he takes each one and signs it (teacher shows this action). It takes him a very long time.”
Overenthusiastic student at the back: “Sir. Sir!”
Student: “That’s stupid… why don’t they just give him a stamp.”
A Year 12 Economics class in Ormiston, investigating how the EQC gets its funds…
Student: “Every policyholder has to pay the EQC $67.50.”
Teacher: “And what does policyholder mean?”
Student (after thinking for a bit): “It means the government.”
Teacher: “The government?”
Student: “Yes. Every time the Prime Minister comes up with a new policy, EQC charges them $67.50.”
A student leader on a Duke of Edinburgh tramp on Motutapu Island…
Teacher: “Is everything alright?”
Teacher: “Why didn’t you answer your radio?”
Student: “Sir, a cow stole our radio.”
Student (emphatically): “A cow stole our radio.”
It turns out that the noise of the radio (walkie-talkie) attracted the attention of some cows, who came to investigate. The student leader, looking up and seeing the cows, panicked, dropped the radio and ran off. The still functioning radio became the focal point for the cows and thus the student leader surmised that a cow stole his radio.