Published on 24/04/18
What can we do to ensure that our young people are learners for the lives they will lead? Tricia Kelleher, Principal of the Stephen Perse Foundation, argues that it's time to think differently about education.
Education in our schools is about tidiness.
Clear linear progression provides the guide rails leading inexorably to the national qualification framework. Here the object of this experience, aka “the student”, is neatly packaged and labelled before moving on to the next designated weigh station. For the avoidance of doubt, this entire process is premised on certainty about context. Whether that’s educating young people for the traditional workplace or for Higher Education, that’s the system and the system will prevail. The rolling out of the Goveian reforms to the national qualification framework are simply the retro icing on this traditional cake.
"I find it extraordinary that, whilst the world around us all is changing exponentially, the learning environment for our young people is stuck."
I write this with my tongue firmly in my cheek. Not because I do not believe our education system is in an unfortunate straight jacket, but because I find it extraordinary that, whilst the world around us all is changing exponentially, the learning environment for our young people is stuck. It is as if young learners today are living and learning in a binary world. Their avatars in the world they are growing up in are participants in the technological revolution flitting from one digital device to another, navigating social media platforms, taking “Blade Runner” like innovation in their stride. Inevitably there is also a darker side to the revolution posed by the challenges and stresses of living in a state of constant connectivity. Indeed the unprecedented mental and emotional pressure on our digitally connected youth is now a cause of national angst. Even Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, has weighed in to the debate about the young and use of social media platforms.
Yet once youngsters cross the threshold of a school they become a cog in the national education wheel which rolls on remorselessly without any meaningful reference to either the digital present or what the future holds. The government juggernaut is mercifully mitigated by the staff in schools who spend their professional life supporting their charges both academically and pastorally. Even a cursory viewing of the various Channel 4 programmes with their fly on the wall insights into teacher - student relationships is a powerful testimony to this. Nevertheless, at the end of the day Headteachers are held accountable for examination results not how well a young person is prepared for the world they will inhabit.
Viewed through the prism of a fundamentally different future, until we take an holistic approach to learning, valuing the whole not just what can be measured in the examination hall (in itself questionable), we are light years away from the “untidy” education our young desperately need. Their lives will require more than the narrow academic grounding offered by the assessment framework currently. Yes, critical thinking remains vitally important. However, this is but one of the numerous tools youngsters need in life’s Toolkit where character and values are as important as knowledge and skills.
"Headteachers are held accountable for examination results, not how well a young person is prepared for the world they will inhabit."
The purpose of education should not be about doing more of the same just because that is how we have always done it. Surely learning in schools should be about ensuring our young people are learners for the lives they will lead. Who knows what exciting opportunities will present themselves? Life is their future adventure - to truly support them we must be prepared to think differently about education today.