Tuesday, 19 July 2011

My business

I don't really talk too much about my work here but this was posted by Di on Facebook and it resonated with me. I am in the business of education reform, often amongst the few voices in the initial change process. The problem is that people revert to their default setting when challenged with something that seems a bridge too far. The key for sustained change, change that embeds itself and becomes the norm, is to involve everyone at the level at which they can contribute.

The example used by Sir Ken about standardised testing is an example of a default setting. When educators worry about impact they want to baseline children then institute a standardised test to measure their progress. While summative assessment like this is valid and when used in context and alongside formative, continuous assessment it can inform teaching choices for educators. The key problem with this is that many countries borrow testing from elsewhere and it does not take into account the unique socio cultural context in which the children operate. I've seen this happen in several places now. This default setting often comes from childhood messages and experiences.

People reason that they were successful when they were tested to have become credentialed so they believe that if it was good enough for them it must be good enough for the children in their care. We've heard this message all through our childhoods in some form or another from our parents, teachers, grown ups from all sorts of places and of course the media, therefore this is imprinted on us. It is actually our default setting too. The problem is, as Sir Ken points out so clearly, the world has changed, societies have changed. I suspect I would struggle to record many of those changes alone, in a group of peers I'm sure we would manage many more.

As parents we worry about our children's education and want a measure of how they are doing. We encourage them to keep on the education path, go from secondary school to university, get a degree so they can get a job. And this works for many but for many it doesn't and they become burnt out in the process, sometimes turning to other more dangerous recreations. Often our kids can see themselves as failures early on, it becomes their truth about themselves that is difficult to change.

But who gets to say what failure is, whose definition is true. Often common sense and logic are strong in our children and they can see how to create something for others, they may not be good at sitting at a desk in a controlled situation listening to, writing and reading words. Some children excel at sports, they need to move their bodies to learn. Some excel at art or music, some at the sciences, some in literacy learning, we all have our unique talents. Some of us are just plain different. A skillful teacher will manage to notice this, recognise how individual children interact with their world and respond by tailoring a programme for that child or a group of children that support them in their learning.

Working in groups or teams helps children to develop altruism, a trait that is so missing in our world today. Team; together we achieve more; there is no 'I' in team; time, energy and money; together everyone achieves miracles, people have been thinking about teams for a while. Sports teams show us how important it is to work together, without the defense, the attack and scoring wouldn't happen. Without the attack the defense has no job to do. How many job advertisements say:

"Must be able to work collaboratively in a team environment" or "engagement with stakeholders and collaboration with colleagues is a key competency".

The world of work values common sense, and that's not that common; the ability to build and maintain working relationships; the ability to communicate with people of different ages, ethnicities and backgrounds; the ability to work collaboratively with others; the ability to get on in the workplace. We need to teach our children these skills alongside the academic skills they need to credential. The children who learn those skills will be the employable ones.

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