Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Developing all students' talents or imposing conformist standards

Our education system, with its genesis in industrial age thinking, was never designed to educate all students. At best it was a way of sorting out students who might progress. That they have succeeded with so many students is to their credit but today they are well past their use by date. New thinking is required. The age of standardisation is over but the government seems to be unaware of this.

We have a problem in our schools - it is one of disengagement which is at a worrying level at years 7 to 10.

The government with its popular mandate believes the answer is to do with poor teaching of literacy and numeracy in primary schools and intends to introduce the failed concept of standards against the wisdom of highly respected educationalists, the Primary Principal's Federation and the primary teacher union.

I had hoped that common sense would prevail and that at least a trial would be set up but it seems not. Yesterday the Prime Minister made it clear the standards are to be imposed this year and that school Boards that did not comply would be sacked.

And this from a political party that believes in initiative, freedom and individual responsibility. As I see it it is the the worst case of political interference ( social engineering) or a government imposing a centralized agenda on schools. State socialism of the worst kind - free market Stalinism.

Students are failing, there is no doubt about this; we do not need national standards to find out who that are and we know that the worrying problem of student disengagement increases between the ages of 12 and 15 or so. Imposing literacy and numeracy standards in primary schools will not solve this problem - it will make it even worse by distorting the learning experiences of students and distracting the time and energy of teachers.

What is really required is some rethinking of the school system which is just not possible to educate all the students in its present arrangement. The joy of learning, which all students are born with, is lost as students 'progress' through the system.

Standardisation might have worked in an industrial age but the world has changed dramatically and what is now required is the develop the creativity and initiative and individuality of all students. We need a school system that centres on helping each student develop their unique talents - naturally this has to include literacy and numeracy.

What is required is a personalised approach to learning from an earl;y age.Even primary schools the past decades have lost the creativity and have fallen into the trap of standardized or formulaic 'best practice' learning. The problem comes to a head in early secondary school when non academic students begin to lose interest.

Retaining all students interest in and joy of learning is the real challenge.

A recent survey in the UK slams schools

'Many British adults say they did not realise their true potential until years after they had left school. A survey of 2000 people found on that, on average, they cited 22 as the age they found their niche in life.Nearly half of those surveyed felt they were regarded as average or poor students while they were at school. Of those, 15 percent they never really got the chance to discover their talent in the classroom because their teacher had written them off as failures.'

How will imposing national standards fix this?

Standards will mean that all students will be assessed twice a year and recorded as below, average or above average. As is is not possible for everyone to be above average students will continue to disengage from their own learning. This will be made worse by the ignoring of their special talents in the process. This is what has happened in the two countries that have developed such an approach - the UK and the US - both performing far worse that NZ!

If schools accept the imposition of the conformist standards then I am out of helping such schools but will remain as an advocate for teacher creativity.

For educators there is a choice to be made that will require leadership and courage.

Already those in the Ministry have learnt to dance to the tune of the new masters selling their integrity in the process as have those who deliver contracts for the Ministry.

Are schools next to cave in in this brave new 'big brother knows best' standardized world?

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