Everything old is new again

Perhaps a sure sign one is getting old is when the latest debates – in this case on education – are so eerily similar to the debates of thirty and forty years ago that one constantly experiences deja vu!

In 1979 I was the main organiser of a residential conference at Ranelagh House in Robertson. The topic was “English into the 80s!”

Now of course we didn’t anticipate IT, about which see this: “Australia and New Zealand have come equal second to Korea in digital literacy among 15-year-olds, according to a new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report examining how students use computers and the internet to learn…”  But we were contemplating CCTV as a teaching tool, and video, and of course OHP – overhead projectors, in case you’ve forgotten already.

But the following item from today’s Sydney Morning Herald would have fitted seamlessly into that conference of 1979.

…have all the questions been answered? Or is Australia about to be locked into a model based on yesterday, when what we need is one that will be flexible enough for tomorrow’s learners to thrive?

That is what worries many educators, including a former British head teacher of the year and author of Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today, Richard Gerver.

Gerver, who recently toured Australia, was struck by the vibrancy and vision of the teachers and education leaders he met. Yet he felt that, as in Britain, the ”short-sighted and out-of-date ideology of politicians is hampering the real development of curriculum and, ultimately, the future for our children”….

While most people believe education should prepare students for employment, an American author and speaker on economic transformation, Daniel Pink, says schools are being left behind as the 21st-century work environment changes.

Many of the skills taught in schools (and assessed in standardised tests) are based on the principle that ”professional success [used to] depend on the ability to reason logically, sequentially and speedily” because in part, ”the jobs that paid the most – in dollars and prestige – required the ability to zero in, computer-like, on correct answers. Think spreadsheet-wielding bankers, number-crunching accountants and code-crafting programmers.”

Pink says, ”many of these can be done cheaper by overseas workers and faster by computers. And by the time these young people enter the workforce early in the next decade, a large category of jobs will increasingly be offshore or automated.”

Pink has been saying this since 2005, when he published his second book, A Whole New Mind….

A professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne, Brian Caldwell, who was the university’s dean of education until 2004, also supports the intent of the curriculum. Yet he says, ”The curriculum, an online resource, would, if printed, run to thousands of pages. What do we make of the fact that the [highly rated] Finland curriculum across all subjects and across all grades is less than 100 pages?”…

Caldwell questions whether schools will be able to deliver on these statements given other aspects of educational reform, which he claims will be counterproductive.

”My best reading of the national curriculum is that these 21st-century skills are addressed but they will continue to be eclipsed because of two fundamental if not devastating misalignments, one related to assessment [NAPLAN testing, league tables and My School] and the other to plans to pay bonuses to high-performing teachers [based on these tests and tables].”

Caldwell says, ”The curriculum must be aligned with a broad national framework rather than a highly prescriptive, carrot-and-stick, command-and-control approach. Above all, the focus must be on building the profession and learning the lesson from well-meaning reform efforts in other places.”…

Another place to experience deja vu:



waiting for the morning train yesterday

In the nicest possible way, of course. Mind you, the people would have looked a bit different in 1979, and there was still a bar serving alcohol on the station back then…