Education stuck in 19th-century thought rut

1610schools

Advancements in science have transformed medicine from 100 years ago. So why do we expect schools to stay confined to a 19th-century model where rote learning was cutting-edge, asks Greg Whitby.

- The Australian

There has been a cold war raging for many decades between educational progressives and traditionalists. With each change of government it seems the ideologies of the day are kicked to the kerb and everything old becomes new again. The conservatives push for a more academic curriculum, direct instruction and a back-to-basics approach to improve Australia's rankings in international tests, while the progressives espouse child-centred, experiential learning, facilitated teaching and the like.

The truth is, neither approach has led to significant improvement in Australia's performance across the past few generations. And we are not alone. The ideological nature of educational debate in the US has been blamed for the persistent failure of its educational reform, and in limiting teachers' ability to solve the problems they are seeking to address.

Harvard professor Richard Elmore thinks it is unlikely Australia will join the world's high-performing economies of the future with a 19th-century model of teaching.

Australia has spent the past 30 to 40 years trying to perfect an industrial model of schooling that is no longer relevant, desirable or effective in improving student performance.

In contrast, the highest performing school systems, such as those in South Korea and Singapore, have transformed their educational models within a few generations. The common approach is the investment in the teaching profession and the use of robust evidence applied to learning and teaching within a relevant curriculum.

The OECD has recognised that many school systems are not teaching in a way to develop the "deep knowledge" required for knowledge work. Didactic approaches to learning, and even more contemporary learning approaches delivered within the existing model of schooling, are inadequate for preparing our children as knowledge workers.

Knowledge workers will not only require a deep conceptual and subject knowledge, they will need to learn how to think critically and creatively, how to collaborate and innovate, and learn how to learn and relearn. These capabilities must also be fostered and developed within the teaching profession.

Everyone from former US president Bill Clinton to rap star Snoop Dogg is calling for greater focus on computer science in schools. Every industry is being shaped and transformed by technological advancements; in the US, there is an annual standing demand for 120,000 computer scientists. There is a shortage of engineers, mathematicians and scientists required to sustain and develop technological solutions for the challenges the world faces, such as climate change.

Albert Einstein said imagination was more important than knowledge because knowledge tells us what is and imagination tells us what could be. It won't be enough to return to the good old days or to tinker around the edges applying new teaching styles within old structures of schooling. We need to develop a system that nurtures innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs, problem solvers and thought leaders. And we need to do it on a huge scale if we are to prepare for the future.

FULL STORY Kicked to the kerb again

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