The imperative: Paradigm shift for school (The world is changing…it always will) Part 2

Who would have thought a camera in a mobile phone would bring down a household name? Longstanding business models, like Kodak, can’t assume that the way things have always been, is the way things will remain.

In the same way, the longstanding ‘business model’ that is school education needs to look at the times and reinvent to be relevant for young people and provide the learning opportunities they need for a world outside school. One  that is radically different from the default model many students experience.

Education has always addressed the prevailing mood of society. While we may criticise industrial-era education today, at the time, it was responsive to the workplace and practices of the day. The Industrial era was a time of unprecedented population growth, with a shift toward machine-based manufacturing. Then in the post-war period the growing population was experiencing increasing personal income, resulting in increasing consumerism.

People wanted stuff, stuff needed to be provided.

In this  culture, people were colloquially referred to as cogs in the machine. They worked hard for a day’s pay. There was little input, opportunity to contribute ideas or collaborate. People may have worked side-by-side, but each were specifically attending to their own duties. They started work at the whistle, they clocked on and then ended work with the whistle, they clocked off. The boss told them what to do and when to do it.

As a result, the school system as we know it emerged. It reflected the society and prepared young people with the skills required and the associated social norms, including the idea that work was the means of supporting your family, paying bills and keeping busy. The idea of self-expression through work was sheer fantasy!

Work was compartmentalised and school moved the same way.

  • Rooms separated students
  • Subjects and disciplines directed content
  • Student were grouped according to dates of birth
  • The time and duration for learning was specified
  • The furniture was fixed and uniform

Learning was segmented.

Educators are pioneers and navigate unchartered territory and have done throughout history. The industrial-era school was a response to what the community needed at the time. Moving away from the agriculturally based society to an urbanised industrial society, education provided skills and routine.

This isn’t the predominant model of the workplace, today. Increasingly in the developed world, employees are considered the most valuable resource, not just cog in a machine and they genuinely have a voice in how business works.

Tony Wagner, in his book The Global Achievement Gap, outlined seven skills that the business sector has identified as necessary for survival in the knowledge age.

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurship
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Accessing and analysing information
  7. Curiosity and imagination
As an example, Microsoft Finland wanted to design a space that would  facilitate creative and collaborative relationships, a place where people could share ideas spontaneously. Here, each employee is mobile and chooses  a workspace from one of  five environments:

The Beach: smaller tables and more comfortable chairs, music, soft lighting where most employees come to work individually or in pairs

Bistro/cafeteria: an eating space with tables, which is where most meetings take place

Nature Room: full of plants, generally used for individual or pair work

Marketplace: a touchdown area, where people come to work alone, to meet in large groups, to look for others, etc.,

The Library: reserved for undisturbed work — employees must maintain silence and are not permitted to interrupt anyone working here

This is the big question:
Is it possible for young people experiencing an environment of
  • ‘chalk and talk’
  • segmented subjects
  • cohorts that are based on the assumption of age-based grouping
  • uniformity and one-size-fits-many curriculum
…to then adapt and thrive in an environment of choice, creativity and collaboration?

Somehow, I think not.

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