Education: There Must Be a Better Direction

“Depending on what question you need to answer, nearly every approach to pedagogy has its place. But if you’re asking the wrong questions, as our education systems are, everyone can point to the failings of everyone else, because no approach is sufficient.”
– Mark Stevenson

“How different would school’s priorities look if they were judged by their student’s life prospects 10, 15 or even 20 years after they left, rather than last year’s exam results?”
– David Price

There was something about this photo I took in Portland, Oregon last summer that resonates with me. I suspect I am delusionally alone in detecting an Edward Hopper aspect to the lighting. What initially attracted me to the image was the vibrant green light signal for a one-way direction, something schools are often charged with: the notion that educators are wedded to pursuing only one way of doing things and too rigid to deviate.

I was reminded of this perspective recently by a colleague who shared a video that is doing the digital rounds, a piece from Next Schools that seeks to highlight the things that are reputedly wrong in an outmoded system of education.

6 Problems With Our School System

Among the problems with schools identified in this short film are the following:

  1. Industrial Age Values. Learners are passive receptors of directions.
  2. Lack of Autonomy. Every minute of the learner’s life is tightly controlled by the system.
  3. Inauthentic Learning. Most learning in schools relies on memorization and rote learning.
  4. No Room For Passion. There is no room for the things that make us human.
  5. How We Learn. The system has no room for learner differences.
  6. Lecturing. A fundamentally dehumanizing experience that dominates teaching.

Many educators will not recognise the school system described here. We should be beyond this. We have, at the very least, an obligation to be in a more enlightened place by now. But this remains the reality for many learners. All schools (not just private or independent ones) should have the opportunity to achieve the vision set out by Education Forward: “Education has to change – to move forward – so that our schools and students can face the unprecedented challenges of the future, with confidence, capability and compassion.” I wonder if all schools should not commit to the vision of this group.

School change is a complex business that should be made possible for all learners in all contexts. If this is to be realised, we must avoid generalisations that suggest that schools have not changed in hundreds of years. If educators are struggling to move education forward towards a future-literate vision of learning, we should ask ourselves what the constraints and pressures are that prevent them from doing so. We should celebrate the achievements of teachers who, given the freedom and contexts in which to thrive, prove everyday that there is more than one way when it comes to learning. The biggest challenge facing education, however, is not how we do it, but why we do it. This is the heart of the matter.

Despite how far we have come, too often our learners still find themselves confronted by a one-way road sign. At the Education Forward Conference held in October, 2017, author and futurist, Mark Stevenson, asked, “What questions does our education system seek to answer at the moment?” Based on the prevailing and overwhelming evidence available, his assessment was stark: ”How do we help students get the best marks?”

There must be a better direction.

NOTES

Price, David, editor. Education Forward: Moving Schools into the Future. Crux Publishing, 2017.
Next Schools, India. 6 Problems With Our School System. YouTube, published December 15, 2016.
Education Forward. http://www.educationforward.co.uk/.