Is it just me, or is the blogosphere currently awash with demands for radical change in our schooling system?
There’s been quite a stir over in the US in response to Pres. Obama’s
speech. He cited research highlighting students’ lack of interest and motivation as prime reasons from drop-outs, proposing that we have to make school work more engaging and relevant to kids’ lives, if they’re all to graduate from school. He even praised
schools – and they’re far from mainstream – for their ability to make learning relevant and engaging.
And then uber-blogger Scott McLeod highlighted the economic imperative for radical transformation. In an
open letter to his school district, entitled ‘The Status Quo No Longer Suffices’ he highlights something I’ve blogged about a lot – what he calls the increasing use of ‘globalised piece work’ breaking down what were formerly full-time service sector-jobs in the west, into outsourced tasks, undertaken (at less than minimum wage levels) by skilled graduates from around the world, all competing online. The implication is that we have to stop aiming for low-level cognitive ability in our students, if we’re to remain competitive, and instead aim for ‘a much greater degree (of) skills of higher-level thinking and real-world application’.
Even Ted got in on the act: this week, tech journalist Jeff Jarvis posted notes of his deliberately provocative presentation at TEDxNYED, in advance of the video going public. Entitled
‘This Is Bullshit‘, Jarvis likens the one-at-the-front lecture format of TED to classrooms and argues that the role of the teacher in a digital age is to add value to what’s already out there on You Tube and freely available, by complementing inspirational presentations with questions, explanations, illustrations. If you’ve ever seen any of Walter Lewin’s inspirational lectures at MIT, you can see his point. Not many teachers can beat that.
Three different takes on a familiar theme: the failure of schooling to keep up with the changes in society and technology. I guess you could argue that it’s just coincidence, but there does seem to be an urgency in the debate now, and a growing realisation – in the US at least – that merely asking schools to do more of the same, but with better results, isn’t going to fix things.
It’s noticeable, however, that in the same week, the major talking point in the UK has been OFSTED, the national inspections agency, ‘raising the bar’, leading to a halving of the schools judged ‘outstanding’, despite doing exactly what they’ve been asked to do previously. In the months leading up to an election, it seems that we want to settle for quick, non-disruptive, top-down fixes, rather than a sensible debate on the re-invention of schooling.