Exactly one year ago my wife and I took up permanent residence on the edge of Desolation Sound. Our house is surrounded by forest and looks out on an ocean inlet, but has limited internet connectivity, no TV reception, and picking up mail involves a 10 km round trip. When we retired here I feared that I would lose touch with the field of education in which I had been thoroughly immersed for the previous forty years, particularly as the turnover of issues and ideas is supposedly so rapid in today’s high-tech, fast-response world.
However, over the past year I have come to realise that the underlying issues and ideas actually remain fairly constant. The environment of education is certainly evolving rapidly; schools and colleges must adjust to the arrival of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), the best use of smart phones and social media create more and more challenges for school policy makers, and brain research continues to extend our understanding of the physiology of learning. Nevertheless, the major debate remains the same, and can be condensed down to the problem of how to reconcile three groups:
- Educators, who by research, training and practice know that learning is a natural process, best accomplished in a supportive, stimulating, stress-free and non-competitive environment. Assessment is important to determine the optimal teaching & learning strategy, but doesn’t work either as motivation or selection tool.
- Parents, who want the best outcome for their own children, and whose concept of a ‘good’ education is usually shaped by their own school experience. They are aware that resources such as college places and jobs are in short supply, and would prefer a curriculum that focuses on successful university entry over one that aims to produce compassionate, reflective and responsible citizens.
- Politicians, for whom education is a pragmatic matter of cost/benefit, with the costs being measured in money and the benefits in votes.
All we have to do, of course, is to persuade the second group (parents) that the first group (educators) really do have expertise in how children learn, at which point the third group (politicians) will want to court the votes of the second group (parents) by meeting the needs of the first group (educators). Got that? Easy!!!
If anything, my year away from the day-to-day challenge of working in a school has given me a broader perspective and an unobstructed view of what is important. I can only hope that, in the years to come, this blog will contribute to the debate.