This one is a must read for educators…and politicians making educational decisions too!
“If you design a system to do something specific, don’t be surprised if it does it. If you run an education system based on standardization and conformity that suppresses individuality, imagination, and creativity, don’t be surprised if that’s what it does.”
The students who feel alienated by current systems of standardization and testing may walk out the door, and it’s left to them and others to pay the price in unemployment benefits and other social programs. These problems are not accidental by-products of standardized education; they are a structural feature of these systems. They were designed to process people according to particular conceptions of talent and economic need and were bound to produce winners and losers in just those terms. And they do. Many of these “externalities” could be avoided if education genuinely gave all students the same opportunities to explore their real capabilities and create their best lives.
Education is really improved only when we understand that it too is a living system and that people thrive in certain conditions and not in others. The four principles of organic farming translate directly to the sorts of education we urgently need to cukivate. Paraphrased for education they might be:
- Health. Organic education promotes the development and wellbeing of the whole student, intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially.
- Ecology. Organic education recognizes the vital interdependence of all of these aspects of development, within each student and the community as a whole.
- Fairness. Organic education cultivates the individual talents and
potential of all students, whatever their circumstances, and respects the roles and responsibilities of those who work with them.
- Care. Organic education creates optimum conditions for students.
A few years ago I bought a new car. It took a long time. Once I’d decided on the model, I was offered an endless series of choices to customize it to my personal tastes and needs: colour, fabrics, sound systems, number of doors, engine size and so on. It was like filling out a tax return. I asked the salesman how many versions of this car there actually were. He didn’t know but guessed that mine would be unique, just like all the others he’d sold. In contrast, I got my first car when I was twenty-three. Back then, there was only one question: “Do you want it or not?”
Nowadays, we take for granted that we can personalize just about anything, from the apps on our smart phones, to the clothes we wear, to our pages on Facebook. The same is true of health care. As technology and the understanding of biology continue to develop, the medicines you take will become ever more tailored to your individual body type. This process of personalization seems to be everywhere, but it has yet to take root in education. This is ironic, because it is in education that personalization is most urgently needed. So what does that mean? It means:
- Recognizing that intelligence is diverse and multifaceted
- Enabling students to pursue their particular interests strengths
- Adapting the schedule to the different rates at which students learn
- Assessing students in ways that support their personal progress and achievement
Great teachers are the heart of great schools. In their various roles, they fulfil three essential purposes for students:
- Inspiration: They inspire their students with their own passion for their disciplines and to achieve at their highest levels within them.
- Confidence: They help their students to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to become confident, independent learners who can continue to develop their understanding and expertise.
- Creativity: They enable their students to experiment, inquire, ask questions, and develop the skills and disposition of original thinking.
In planning the school curriculum, I much prefer the idea of disciplines. A discipline is a mixture of theory and practice. Mathematics, for example, is a combination of methods and processes and of proposition knowledge. The student is not only learning about mathematics, but also how to do mathematics. The same is true of disciplines that involve physical skills and the control of materials and tools, including music, art, design, engineering, technology, theatre, dance, and the rest.
Andreas Schleicher is director for education and skills and special adviser on education policy to the secretary-general at the OECD. “The world economy no longer pays you for what you know; Google knows everything,” he told me. “The world economy pays you for what you can do with what you know. If you want to learn if someone can think scientifically or translate a real-world problem into a mathematical context, those things are harder to assess, but they’re also more important in today’s world. We see a rapid decline in the demand for routine cognitive skills in our world and the kinds of things that are easy to test and easy to teach are also the kinds of things that are easy to digitize, automate, and outsource.”