Are governments just polishing the chrome on the 1965 vehicle, when we need to design a new hybrid model?

Over the past few years ‘education’ in the media followed politicians announcing large-scale projects.

The Australian Government’s 2009 GFC stimulus package, ‘Building the Education Revolution’, was more of a building program and the 2007 ‘Digital Education Revolution’ (Year 9 1:1 laptop program) was an election promise that seemed to misunderstand the future technology needs for schools and students.

In my opinion, neither of these programs thought deeply about the future and preparing young people. This week in my state, due to funding announcements, schools, education and teachers are, once again, hot topics.

In the minds of politicians it seems that despite everything happening in the world around us, a veil of nostalgia covers the eyes of our policy-makers, they see school education as it was and this then reinforces how it should be.

As result, when it comes to the public debate, the discourse doesn’t seems to be generated by ideas around what do our kids really need to succeed into their future, but about to PISA rankings and funding models. It’s the cart before the horse.

PISA rankings – Much of what we read from the US about the testing regime and its inherent problems stemmed from a noble-sounding policy – No Child Left Behind. Sounds good, but how do you determine achievement of the goals? Teaching to the test, testing and more testing.

If Australia’s ability to compete in the markets in our region is dependent on our PISA ranking in reading, maths and sciences, we are destined to head down the same track.

There are a number of other essential skills that young people need. What is the measure for innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial activity?

Funding models – At the core of equity in education is the provision of adequate funds to do the job. Unlike many other countries, non-government schools in Australia, representing faiths, ideologies and cultures, attract proportional government funds. These come from the both the state and federal coffers and are, at the time of writing, under significant review.

I am an advocate for equitable funding, but I believe we are coming at this from the wrong angle. It seems, whenever we talk about education reform in this country, the debate immediately moves to funding.

What if we identified the elements of a good education that a child today needs, determine what funding is required, and then carve up the pie.

Start with the child and design a new future.

Design-thinking doesn’t just tinker with the current model, provide add-ons or paint it a new colour. It looks at the problem from a fresh perspective, frames and reframe the burning question, arranged and rearranges the elements, develops models and then refines them.

At the moment the politicians and regulatory authorities are painting and polishing the old model. Our state minister for education asked in a news article over the weekend, ‘Why are kids listening to their iPod and not their teacher’ – the reality in 2012 is that maybe they are doing both.

Wholesale change is unsettling, but necessary. Many of us feel that we are actually designing a new hybrid vehicle for education, while our politicians are polishing the 1965 Kingswood/Edsel/Vauxhall. For example: Why are we still measuring the delivery of a high school courses by calculating the hours taught? This focusses on the teacher/teaching, rather than the learner/learning.

The only way to re-invent, rethink and renew is to come at the problem from a new perspective. We must envision what doesn’t yet exist and reframe the problem. If we keep polishing the chrome on the old vehicle we will increasingly alienate and disengage young people from that wonderful world of learning.


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