Sunday, December 25, 2016

What future of education?

"I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious." Albert Einstein

I have been thinking a great deal these past few months about education as an institution and how frustratingly slow it can be to make significant changes. I can't help but wonder how schools would be different if they were actually designed to support students and learning, rather than to make it easier for teachers and administrators to organise and remain 'accountable' for their daily practice. And so, with the question 'What if...' playing on a loop in my mind, I've embarked on a personal mission to understand why schools are they way they are and what we might do to bring about meaningful change. What if schools were designed as places of learning? What if schools were places where students were at the centre of every decision?

It is within this context that I came across Dr Clare Brooks' MOOC, What future of education? offered by the University of London & UCL Institute of Education via Coursera. I see this as an opportunity to critically reflect on my own ideas about education and refine some of my questions to drive future studies. As a part of this course we are being asked to keep a reflective journal, and so I am dusting off my blog. Hopefully this will be incentive to get back into the reflective habit! 

Week 1: How do we learn?

This week we explored some of the differences between traditional and progressive approaches to education. I feel quite fortunate to work in a school that embraces inquiry-based, concept-driven learning that understands the importance of reflection in the learning process. The idea that there are still schools where this is not common place saddens me. I do not think of these ideas as being progressive, they may have been so in the 60s and 70s, but not now. With all of the brain research conducted in the past two decades and what we now know about mindsets and motivation, I am at a loss as to why our schools still look the way they do. Even most of our 'progressive' schools that allow for different learning preferences and encourage children to reflect on their learning and set personal goals are not organised in a way that is student-centred. 

Most schools are still organised into the traditional classroom model - one teacher and a large group of students. Educators decide on how these classrooms will be organised: Into which class each student will be placed, with which teacher each student will work, how many minutes in each class, what will be taught and how students will demonstrate what they have learned. Even if the teachers are committed to student-centred learning, most are working within a system that is designed to empower the teachers in the community, not the students.

And so my question remains, How can we recreate schools that are organised for students to best learn? How might schools become places that nurture curiosity and help children to uncover their passions; places where students are empowered to direct their own learning and where teachers serve as facilitators and mentors, providing guidance and opportunities for students to be challenged.

Many people roll their eyes once I get going on this subject. I can almost hear them saying, "Here she goes again. It's just not practical, how would we know what students have learned? How will they get into a university?" Fortunately, not all think along these lines. There are some schools out there making significant systemic changes. Harrisburg Freedom Elementary is one such example. They have removed grade levels and have implemented a new system to empower students through a personalised learning environment. Quest to Learn is a secondary school that has taken a game-based learning approach to provide students with an environment in which they are the designers, innovators, problem-solvers and inventors. While both these schools have taken a different approach, they both understand that the traditional school model does not work. As educators we need to be brave and try new things to ensure that all of our students have an opportunity to learn and become aware of how they best learn.

I'm not sure what future schools will look like, but I know they will be very different from what they are today. We need a paradigm shift in our understanding of 'school'. I just hope we don't need another 17 years of the 21st century to pass before this happens.

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