Categories
Change Education

Snake, Walkmans, Moments & School…

What do these three things have in common,  and why on earth would I waste your time asking you that question?

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If you’re of a certain vintage you’ll be aware of just how amazing Nokia phones were.

What’s that? You can’t remember? Check this out.

Of course, Sony Walkmans were so popular even competitor’s offerings were referred to as Walkmans, and how many times have you thanked your lucky stars that your Kodak Moments weren’t captured in the era of Facebook or Instagram?

Nowadays, a straw poll of any group I speak with shows that very few have a Nokia phone, Sony Walkman (yes they still make and sell Walkmans) or have a Kodak anything… 

Why? We haven’t stopped communicating, listening to music or taking pictures – in fact we’re probably doing all three more than any generation before us – and yet all three companies have had to diversify to survive.

How did Sony in particular, given they owned a heck of a lot of music and the most widely used personal music device, miss the boat?

Is it possible they were so confident in what they were offering, they didn’t need to consider an alternative scenario?

Maybe. Lot’s of analysts have… erm… analysed the ups and downs of these companies in more detail than I have here, but that’s what I see they have in common.

Ok… so why waste your time with that?

What if education institutions as we know them are the Nokia, Sony and Kodak of Learning. We all know people – lots of them – who attend them, work in them and/or are generally in favour of them. They are the market leaders in Learning so to speak, with a captive audience.

Most would agree that education institutions offer two things – amongst a raft of other opportunities of course.

  1. A forum to enhance your knowledge, understanding, and skills in order to engage with the world.
  2. Access to qualifications/accreditation that further your education or employment options.

How has technology and changes in society and the economy disrupted this? Well the truth is, they haven’t – not much – really – yet.

But what about when they do? What will happen when society realises some of the short comings of its education system?

At one end of the academic spectrum, the majority of the long-term unemployed are young people who left school in the last ten years, whilst at the other, hundreds of medical graduates can’t find internships.

I wrote a fair bit about the fact we’re educating our kids into unemployment for the Sydney Morning Herald. 

Anyhoo… I noticed of late there seems to be some fairly distinctive lines being drawn in the sand with regard to the whole “Is School Fit for Purpose?” debate…

And these lines are not really furthering the debate. Too many are picking sides, picking names (progressive, traditionalist, 21C, anythingpreneur etc.) and picking fights.

A case in point:

This is a tweet from Britain’s School Behaviour Tzar Tom Bennett:

Now to be fair to Tom – he is an incredibly well-respected (by the profession & the government) commentator – some of the language in the graphic that he links to is well and truly ripe for a laugh, but I fear that by setting it up as the work of “an idiot” – he encourages the subsequent replies that his tweet receives… all eye-rolling etc…

The fact is that some  of the concepts that the graphic is trying to convey are worth discussing. To deny that seems a bit daft to me, And by going to the nth degree – on either side of the debate – much of the nuance in lost.

I believe it’s in this nuanced space where the education debate must take place so we can ask and then address questions like:

  • Why do our ‘best and brightest’ students feel the need to cheat at their selective schools or in their university courses?
  • Given Finland performs relatively well in PISA, why is it their Youth Unemployment rate around 24.5%? (By comparison in Australia it’s around 12% and we think that’s high.)
  • Why do Gallup regularly report that in Australia, around 30% of Year 5 kids and 50% of Year 12 kids have disengaged from learning?
  • What’s the best way to prepare students – and ourselves – for the workplace given that many estimate that 50% of the workforce will be freelance in the next decade?
  • And what do we make of the fact that Ernst & Young has declared that in the UK, they no longer take into account an applicants A-Levels or degree qualifications? Often educationalists cite tech companies like Google or Apple as examples of the shifting economy and workplace… but here we’re talking about accountants.
  • What happens to our institutions when we recognise the education system is failing too many kids, that learning can happen anywhere and that traditional qualifications might not carry the weight they once did?
  • And how long will it be before we realise that either/or arguments are unlikely to present many insights to these questions?
Categories
Chatting with John Hattie Education

Chatting with John Hattie – Pt. 3

This is the third in a series of posts based around an interview I had with John Hattie earlier this year.

Whilst many education conferences around the world issue a call to arms – of sorts – to embrace 21st Century Skills, it’s worth pointing out that the cohort of kids that started Kindy in the year 2000 are now – for whom those the system worked – into their second year of an undergraduate course.

Bit late for them.

More than that though, the phrase – to me at least – seems divisive.

SugataWe all know that the Y2K bug came to nothing, but did something happen at 11:59pm on Friday 31st December 1999 that meant all that went before in classrooms was now obsolete?

Certainly some high profile thinkers have come to this opinion.

2013 TED Talk Prize winner Sugata Mitra actually states:

“Schools as we know them are obsolete.”

Now of course I’m not saying that schools shouldn’t be moving with the times. Rather, my problem is the way in which the need to move with the times has been communicated to teachers. Talk around 21st Century Skills is vague; it means different things to different people.

Having previously discussed Direct Instruction v Inquiry Based Learning with John Hattie, our conversation naturally turned to the notion of 21st Century Skills.

“I have a problem with this notion of twenty first century skills,”

says Hattie, “I’m just finishing a synthesis on learning strategies, it’s not as big [as others he’s done] there’s only about 15 – 20 million kids in the sample, and one of the things that I’ve learnt from the learning strategies, and a lot of them include the 21st Century skill strategies is that there’s a dirty secret.”

And the dirty secret is that not only does Hattie believe that these strategies are very simplistic, but he is skeptical of classes that focus solely on critical thinking or creativity – something I’m seeing some (but not many) schools adopt.

“These strategies only work within the subject area,”

Hattie says, “They’re not generic. So one of my problems with the 21st Century skills is schools are running critical thinking and creativity classes as if those things can generically cross over. [But] you can think that way in Maths but not necessarily in physics or in English.”

Of course most schools who embrace 21st Century Skills are seemingly embedding them in their teaching of the curriculum. But then this leads us back to the Content v Skills debate and the teaching style most appropriate.

“You’re right, it polarises the debate in terms of strategies versus content. I bet in every school that you go into, you look at the assessments – and I do that because that’s what kids look at in terms of what teacher’s values – you’re still dominated by content.”

It’s a fair point, consider how much your school focuses on kids ability to digest content compared to how much it genuinely assesses critical or creative thinking.

I wonder if this in some way might explain why Hattie can’t find evidence of Inquiry Based Learning, or 21st Century Skills having much of an impact.

In many cases, maybe what we say we value isn’t what we end up assessing?

Hattie’s main worry is that some schools are over privileging 21st Century Skills, because what he calls “surface learning” is – for the most part – over-privileged by many.

His argument is we need a balance of surface to deep transfer. He says,

“We’ve over-obsessed on content.”

But in response to this comes a “generic notion [of 21st Century Learning], and my terror is that schools will be teaching 21st Century Skills. I don’t think you can do that. I don’t think it’s a viable way to go. New Zealand went down that line of enquiry thinking schools and schools were very proud to say ‘we’re deep thinkers, we’re enquiry thinkers’ – it didn’t work.”

He then went on to discuss what had worked in New Zealand, which I found interesting…

Hattie says, “There needs to be a constructive alignment particularly in high schools between what we say we’re going to do and what we actually assess.”

One of the reasons New Zealand have significantly improved their retention rate is because they changed the upper high school assessment system.

“We got away from this notion that you can only be excellent in physics and chemistry and we said you can be excellent in many things,” he says, “And we showed that even kids who wanted to be water polo coaches or baristas could be excellent at those things and could learn skills right till the end of high school.”

Sounds good to me I thought… how did that go down?

“[Because] it was privileged along with physics and everything else it made many of those teachers very upset. It’s been a traumatic transformation but it’s been a very positive one; it hasn’t been without its problems,” he says.

“Its critics are still out there claiming that we’ve got rid of Shakespeare and calculus and chemistry. And for some kids we have, as we should have done.”

I wonder if that’s the key to a 21st Century education – having diversity and a flexibility in the curriculum that is equally valued based on the needs of students and communities?

Categories
Change Education

Adaptability the Key to Success

WorldfaceGlobalisation and the impact of technology means that, in many ways, the world of today is barely recognisable to that of twenty or thirty years ago.

This is particularly true of the workplace. We’ve long been aware of the concept of offshoring the work force, although many of us still equate this to blue-collar work or call-centre services.

The fact is more and more white-collar work is moving off shore, and the workplace is becoming increasingly “freelance.”

We’re not sure what impact this will have on our students today, but we must appreciate that the education system was essentially designed to produce people who were categorised based on their skill set, and set on a course, that for most would keep them in the same line of work, and for many with the same employer.

Have a look at www.freelancer.com for a quick reality check. Here you’ll see graduates from emerging economies doing what Australian kids can do, but at a fraction of the cost – everything from architecture, accounting and web design to industrial engineering, market research and translation services.

Our kids will have to be super-adaptable, creative, entrepreneurial and remarkably resilient as they enter a workforce that few of their parents will be able to help them navigate.

Let’s assume that at the very least, schools should prepare kids for life after school, Professor Andrew Martin has recently published some findings from his research into adaptability in school, and I’m of the opinion schools should be looking at this as earnestly as they look at “engagement” and “resilience,” if they are to truly prepare kids for life after school.

This was also a running theme in my latest article for The Age in which I interviewed amongst others teen science phenomenon Jake Andraka and UK educator and author David Price OBE.

This was originally written for my regular Generation Next column.