Sunday, 28 July 2013

Defining and Designing World-Class Education (Part 3)

In his paper for CSE, Yong Zhao argues that the traditional model of education is out-moded and that we need to shift to a different paradigm - one that is oriented to the cultivation, development and encouragement of entrepreneurship. Along the way, he engages briefly with the advocates of school reform who argue that "The road to hell in education is paved with false dichotomies". Rather than seeing "either/or" we ought to see "both/and" (cf Michael Barber at Pearson - to be reviewed at some point in the future!).

Zhao makes three telling points that suggest that the ideal of combinations rather than dichotomies may be very hard to achieve. First, time is a fixed and limited resource. Time spent doing one thing means time not spent doing another. Time spent covering the curriculum for the HSC means time not spent on open-ended inquiry or student-directed learning. Second, certain human qualities may be antithetical to each other. Conformity and creativity do not cohabit the same human spirit easily. Third, non-time resources are also finite. The more money spent on developing mathematics, the less money is available for art.

Having made these observations, Zhao goes on to point out that there is an observable inverse relationship between the countries that are ranked high in standardised international educational assessments and those countries that score highly in measures of entrepreneurship activity. Correlation does not equal causation, but the data is suggestive. An education system that is geared towards high-achieving test scores is unlikely to cultivate creativity, independence and capacity for entrepreneurship.

Zhao argues that what is needed is a new paradigm for education that begins with the child, not the curriculum; we know this as child-centred learning and it is a truism in education theory today that learning ought to be child-centred. It does not assume that all children are the same and therefore it is not geared around standardised age-based expectations; rather, the goal is always to move children forward from where they are. This paradigm is not new; its genesis can be seen in Dewey in the 1930s, although it was foreshadowed by Rousseau and developed further by Piaget, Vygotsky, Gardner, Sternberg and a host of educational researchers and cognitive scientists. In summary form, it is generally accepted that children:

  • are born with curiosity and the ability to learn
  • are not born with exactly the same capacities for learning the same things
  • come to school with different levels of cognitive, emotional, physical and social development due to a combination of nature and nurture
  • come to school with different needs, interests, and different abilities
  • are active learners with unique needs
  • should bear the responsibility of learning
  • learn best when intrinsically motivated
  • are motivated when respected, encouraged and exposed to opportunities that capture their interest, build on their previous experience and are recognised for their accomplishment. (Bransford, Brown and Cocking, 2000)

Given the truth of the bullet-points above, it is evident that learning ought to be child-centred. It is also evident that the our educational system has many many features that cannot be described that way. Can learning be progressively made more and more student-centred within the existing systems or is radical reinvention required?

to be continued

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