Saturday, 28 July 2012

Tear down these walls.

Learning is not something that is ‘done’ to a student by a teacher. Learning only happens when a student chooses to engage with what is being taught. But, obviously learning can also happen without a teacher. Regardless of how old we are, whether we ‘succeeded’ in school or not, learning is what humans do. As long as we live, learning is a choice.

Traditional schooling was (is?) about a teacher imparting knowledge perceived to be useful to a group of students. This happened in an enclosed space, for a fixed time and with no outside influence or interference for the duration of the ‘lesson’. Exams, assignments and essays were, and often still are, done alone.

In the industrial society where these students left school and entered factories, this was good preparation for their lives as adult workers – performing repetitive tasks, probably alone, in an enclosed space and under supervision and with little or no outside interference.

So does traditional schooling as described still have relevance today? In today’s business world employees are expected to work in groups and teams, communicate ideas and information, share good practice and continually learn new skills in a fast-paced, rapidly changing environment. They are constantly connected – by computer, messaging systems, email and phone – sometimes 24/7. It is not necessarily the ‘what’ of what we are learning that has changed. It is the ‘how’, ‘where’ and ‘when’.

So why do some classrooms still have the look and feel of traditional schooling? Surely to prepare for their adult lives students at school should be encouraged to connect, work in teams, be creative, and share what they learn. And in a connected world where teachers are not the only, or even the best, source of information, why are students required to turn off phones, disconnect from the internet and all others and take assessments and examinations alone and cut off from all sources of information. Precisely how is this the best preparation for adult life and what are the results of assessments and examinations meant to tell us?

Businesses are not getting enough of the creative, independent, collaborative employees they need. You’d think that this would mean industry pressure would be put on governments to transform formal education; but far from it. Businesses still interview and hire graduate candidates based on performance in standardized tests; tests that show the candidate has a host of skills the business is not looking for!

Of course, there are schools making strong progress in the transformation of education, and there are businesses that select ‘maverick’ candidates based on criteria other than examination results because they have mastered the ‘where’, ‘when' and ‘how’ of learning. But if we are ever going to transform the whole system, business, government, educators and parents all have to agree to engage with the process of change. We need to take away the closed door classroom – tear down the walls even. We need open-network classrooms, not silenced phones. Students need to discover, not absorb. Teachers needs to become filters of knowledge rather than the sum of all knowledge.

The system right now encourages students to become the kind of people that it takes to succeed at standardised tests – compliant, obedient, secretive and able to work in isolation. We are testing the wrong things!

Put your hand up if you are willing to be the one that tells the current generation that we’ve been teaching them the wrong way and testing them on all the wrong stuff. Tear down the classroom walls and rethink how, where, when and why students learn best.

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