Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Defining and designing world-class education (Part 1)

The purpose is clear - a better education capable of preparing our children to live successfully in the future - but the direction is not.

The Centre for Strategic Education (CSE), based in Melbourne, Australia, have just published Seminar Series Paper #226 by Yong Zhao from the University of Oregon. The thrust of the paper, which is titled Paradigm shift: Defining and designing world-class education. His central thesis is that contemporary education is inadequate for preparing young people for the world in which they will live. Education needs to be reimagined and redesigned. In the next couple of posts I will summarise his thoughts and reflect on their application.

Yong Zhao argues that the dominant paradigm for education aims to prepare individuals to find gainful employment in the current economy and to fit into the existing society. As such it is a descendant of the mass-production economy, which requires a large workforce with standardised low-level skills and knowledge. To this end, a common curriculum prescribes the important elements. skills and knowledge that students should learn - these are the things that are deemed to matter. Teachers are trained to deliver the content, schools are rated and esteemed on how well the students acquire the content and - most insidious of all - students are sorted onto tracks that lead to certain sorts of careers or jobs that offer different returns of financial reward and social status.

In essence, the employment-oriented paradigm is about reducing human diversity into a few desirable skills.

Yong Zhao's point is that this paradigm worked fine in a local, homogenous, stable society wherein knowledge was not easily accessible and a few experts monopolised all the skills. We are not in that world any longer. Globalisation and the democratisation of information and knowledge, along with the accelerating rate of technological change, combine to mean that we no longer live in a stable society and it has become increasingly difficult to predict the future. Consequently it is no longer possible to prescribe the knowledge and skills children may need for future careers and employment.

And that leads us back to the starting point. Education needs to prepare our children to live successfully in the future. The traditional model will not do that.

As far as I am concerned, Yong Zhao is preaching to the choir! I believe! During 2012 our school developed a Learner Profile that attempted to identify the capabilities and characteristics that our Kindergarten students in 2012 will need when they graduate from secondary school in 2025. You can see it here. The same old thing is no longer good enough ... so what does Yong Zhao say is the answer ...? to be continued

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