OK, so I’m 2 years out, but thanks to a blog post from Karl Fisch, of Did You Know/Shift Happens fame, I have tracked down Sir Ken Robinson’s address to the RSA after his award of the Benjamin Franklin Medal.
This is an adaptation of the key points on the need to continue seeking a paradigm shift in education. The full presentation can be viewed on the RSA’s you tube channel.
Educators have always sought the “magic bullet”. In the UK, state schools have been subject to endless reform, politically motivated, for decades. Independent education has largely reinforced establishment ideology. It is a cycle that is hard to break, presenting questions about the purpose of education that prove difficult to answer coherently. Unless (as the Lorax might have implied…) education finds a third way between the input of the skilled practitioner and the desires of the student who is enabled to chart their own learning journey.
Knowledge is important – and there is a growing debate in the UK about the merits of ED Hirsch’s approach – but so too are the behaviours that will enable our young people to collaborate and be happy, productive members of society. For me “how” we teach is the most important question we can ask ourselves. The “cultural literacy” espoused by Hirsch is compelling and the children we teach ought to have reference points that inform their own worldviews. However, we must ensure that they are encouraged to probe and question, challenge and debate, so that they really can combine knowledge and skill.
So is there such a thing as the “third way” in education? Well apparently there is. As I write this piece I’m listening to Radio 4’s Analysis programme from October 28th on “Hirschian” Philosophy and the Knowledge v Skills debate in education. About 19 minutes in their is a brief interview with Professor Sir Michael Barber who touches on the notion that knowledge and skills are an integrated whole and states that:
“the road to hell in education is paved with false dichotomies”
Fran Abrams, in summing up her programme, recognizes that knowledge matters and that more should be done to ensure that “cultural literacy” is achieved by as many people as possible. Yet also important are the teaching of skills and these should not be seen as romantic or idealistic. It is, given Karl’s presentation and the “Shift Happens” movement, pragmatic and essential for citizenship in the 21st century.
The educational paradigm is shifting. Our world wide web of super connectivity enhances our ability to communicate and share knowledge and be a part of learning communities that extend beyond the classroom and school. Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner, the giants of educational psychology in the last century, all recognised the importance of social interaction in learning. In social media networks, we now possess the tools to allow children to gain personal knowledge and understanding whilst developing skills in collaboration and communication. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has provided us with a dizzying array of tools which enable children to achieve learning objectives, not because of what they have been told but because of what they have discovered from all manner of sources: internet, books (amazingly!), parents, teachers and their peers (most importantly). Yet it is how we harness these tools, use them and critically interrogate their value that lies at the heart of the debate and the use of social media and ICT, particularly in schools.
To effectively harness these tools, the term “Digital Citizens” has evolved from its origin as the critical appraisal of the reliability of information and internet safety, to include developing children’s skills in working together in the real world and the development of effective connections with other individuals. We are becoming more focused on the ability to communicate as we place more emphasis on the values that we share as communities, be they real or virtual. The presence of digital technology and social media networks in our lives creates a purpose that ensures we maintain a strong focus on the skills in the use of language, the building of rapport and collaborating with others that has been, and always will be, so central to a person’s satisfaction and success in life either personally or professionally.
IAPS conference 2012 was an excellent occasion for a number of reasons – and not necessarily those one would wish to lay, stereotypically, upon on hardworking school leaders! Quite apart from the quality of the speakers, the camaraderie and the professional development, there was a clear sense that themes are emerging within independent education that are gaining credence among this audience.
Now, given that the all-embracing term “independent” prefixes our schools and association, it is a challenge to be so bold as to suggest that we might experience some kind of unifying, epiphanic (it must be right it didn’t spell-check it!) moment in our collective evolution as schools. However I will. Curriculum reform, the learning revolution of social-mobile-web2.0 technology and the overarching responsibility we have to educate citizens prepared for a future, environmentally and socially, beyond our predictive ability are all present in increasing numbers of conversations, seminars, training sessions and professional development opportunity.
School leaders are finding a voice and a language that is not an easy bed fellow with the traditional view of Prep School education. However, the perfect storm of the social and environmental imperatives, educational technology and contemporary pedagogy that swirls around us give cause to rethink just how, and for what purpose, we are preparing our pupils.
We are about to start some research within IAPS that will uncover the range of programmes and activities that provide pupils with the learning opportunities (cross- , co-, hidden- or extra-curricular) necessary for their futures. We already provide excellent, exceptional development of intellectual and academic capability. Yet their futures will require the knowledge, skills and understanding of sustainable living and development, the environment, personal well-being, justice and human rights. It is time that we shared how to make this successful.
Without a measured and progressive programme of professional development for teachers (answering the questions “why iPads?” and “how iPads?”) the result may just be an entertaining side show with “business as usual” the result in the classroom. I have come to understand that the uptake of iPads is not age- , role- or gender-specific. In the hands of a thoughtful and creative teacher, with a little prompting and sharing of possibilities, the use of the tool begins to gain some traction and influence starts to spread.