Since contributing to the original #500words campaign, my thoughts about the purpose of education have become less cogent. I still want to “bust a hole in the wall”; wishing to place learner independence and preparedness for life long learning at the heart of the debate. However, as I have continued teaching, researching, discussing, debating, I have found that my advocacy for student centred learning is paralleled by a growing belief that schools should be placed at the centre of the community. At times it feels as if these ideas should contradict each other, but I believe that they actually compliment each other. Here, I offer a list of connected (and disconnected) assertions, ideas and questions that are currently resonating with me. I hope that in sharing them, I can begin to form a more coherent thesis.
Learning needs to be student centred. Education should offer choice and provide opportunity, not limit it.
Schools need to offer a personalised curriculum. One that is adaptive, malleable… designed by learners themselves.
There should be parity between subjects. But, should learning be structured in subjects?
All learning needs to be encouraged – gaming, exploration, trial & error (when did we decide that getting things wrong was no longer part of learning?). Moreover, I’m concerned that the school system appears to be geared up to remove play, creativity and individuality as learners get older.
Schools should be able to acknowledge and accredit all learning (formal and informal). Badges?
We need to better prepare young people for the models of learning they will be engaged in after school. This means encouraging learner autonomy as well as co-dependence. The era of ‘sage on the stage’ is dead. It’s time to establish ‘guide on the side’ in all classrooms.
We need to stop labelling students; and we need to stop allowing them to label themselves. A learners ability is not genetic; it is not pre-determined by us or anyone else.
Education is not about grades or league tables. They are a meaningless, extrinsic motivator; and are detrimental to fostering effective learning.
Learning is not linear. Learning is messy!
School is not a bubble. Boundaries between learners and the real world need to be removed
Libraries should be at the heart of schools and their respective communities. Libraries should be like this one. And in the 21st century, they are about much more than books.
Schools need to recognise that Online is ‘now’ NOT the future. Technology should be seamlessly integrated in to the learning experience. There needs to be overlap between physical and virtual spaces – opening up further opportunities for a personalised curriculum.
Education needs to be wrestled out of the hands of governments. Communities need to take ownership of learning… freeing education of the fads and whims of politicians. Learning needs to be open/democratised.
Schools should be charged by their communities to provide education that is relevant and creative.
Closing LWF12, Sir Ken Robinson did much more than draw together the various themes and ideas from the conference. Instead, he used his closing talk to discuss the “revolution” he believes is needed (and is already happening) in education. Echoing the conclusions of his 2006 TED Talk and purpose of his 2010 TED Talk, he referred quickly to the struggle between “whole child” education and the propensity of governments to want to “control” and “test” education.
Robinson created a highly compelling polemic. He went on to address the disconnect between practice, theory and policy, as well as the technological and social changes that are feed into the need for a learning revolution. He outlined what he believes to be the purposes of education and then set about, under the headings: Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, and Assessment, recommending a series of changes needed to improve education. These included:
Emphasising personalised (independent) learning;
Customising education for communities;
A move away from “subjects” to “disciplines”;
Encouraging collaborative learning strategies;
Shifting the emphasis in assessment away from “judgement” to “description”.
What I found most gratifying about Robinson’s talk was the emphasis he put on teachers and schools. He believes that teaching is at the heart of education, reminding us (the teachers) that we are part of the system and therefore can, if we choose to, change it. He recognised that there were many of us already doing so and continued by saying: “If you’re waiting for a government to start the revolution, I think you’ll be waiting a long time”. In closing he declared that:
We need to be part of the solution for the revolution and not part of the problem
With that sentiment in mind, I invite you to join me (and a host of other educators) on Thursday, March 1, between 8pm and 9pm, for #ukedchat, where we will be addressing the following question:
Are schools (as physical spaces) necessary to facilitate learning in the 21st century
The question is (I hope) a jumping off point for a debate about what schooling should be like in the 21st century. You can read my full provocation, here.
Next Thursday I will be hosting #ukedchat for the second time. I have selected a challenging and contentious question:
Are schools (as physical spaces) necessary to facilitate learning in the 21st century?
It is prompted by my feelings with regard to the current state of education in the UK. It is my contention that the current system of education is broken and that it will not be fixed if we continue to wait for others to do it for us.
Sir Ken Robinson in his closing speech at LWF12 talked about this specifically, reminding us that we (the teachers) are the education system. He argued that “we need to be part of the solution for the revolution and not part of the problem”. This is not easy though. Teachers are facing a diametrically opposed set of challenges. On the one hand they are being bombarded with negativity and criticism from a government, determined to stymie the revolution and return our education system to the Victorian era from which it was born. On the other hand, there are a plethora of social and technological shifts occurring that ask difficult questions of teachers and the education system:
How are new technologies and social media changing the way we learn?
What is a teacher and what is their purpose?
Can the web offer as good an education as that which is offered in schools?
Can new learning models such as MOOCs, or new forms of accreditation, such as Mozilla’s ‘Open Badges’ project, offer equally valid and meaningful learning experiences; empowering the learner to circumvent the system?
And make no mistake, mainstream education is already being circumvented. Keri Facer reminds us of this in her book ‘Learning Futures: Education, Technology and Social Change’. She draws attention to the fact that schools, increasingly, find it difficult to define their sense of purpose due to the relentless push for them to focus on results and league tables. Creativity? Is off the agenda! Consequently, many groups are dissatisfied with the quality of education schools can offer. Tutoring, home-schooling, ‘free schools’ and truancy are all responses to this. Perhaps the message is that schools (in their current form) do not meet the needs of learners in the 21st century.
Therefore, I believe there is value in a discussion about schools and their role in education. In the face of social and technological change, are schools (as physical spaces) necessary? If not, what is the alternative? If yes, are they fine as they are or do they need to change to meet learners’ needs? Finally, if we believe change is necessary, what can we do to enact it?
It is this that I would like to explore on Thursday. I hope that you will be able to join me.
[Update: Saturday, 3 March] This was the 87th instalment of #ukedchat. You can read a summary of the discussion here and read/download a PDF archive of all the tweets here.
In her talk, Facer views schools as being “one of the last public spaces”, where communities can have a significant impact on shaping future learning; tackling the significant cultural, technological, environmental and economic challenges that we are facing in the 21st century. She suggests that, what we are beginning to see, is a move towards “educated hope” as “schools and universities realise what it means to release their power”.