Coined the term ‘pedagogic nostalgia’ referring to those who long for how school was once. Let’s help them change.

We had a great time today talking learning, schools and education with some forward thinking principals from a rural area in our state. As I was talking I used the term ‘pedagogic nostalgia’, referring to the way many parents long for, either, the education they had or the one they dream of for their kids. There is a journey we need to take our parents on, to help them understand that their default ‘picture’ of school needs to change.

I remembered an opinion piece I was asked to write for our major daily, in the education section.

I’m not sure if I shared it here, but maybe we can help the community move from nostalgia to reality, for our kid’s sake.

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Learning to move with the times
Technology has opened the doors to a whole new world of educational experiences.

My son attended Newtown High School of the Performing Arts. He would leave early or come home late depending on whether he had stage band, concert band, string ensemble, orchestra or choir. During his time there, he had so many opportunities: he enjoyed school, he had teachers who understood creative types and he had friends who were passionate about school.

I was grateful for this opportunity for my son, especially as he now pursues a career in music. As an educator, I wondered, ”What if every young person had this opportunity? What if there were a school for every interest and passion of every young person?” Of course, this is impossible but what if every school were a place where the spark of learning could be ignited inside each student?

My son’s story is in contrast with that of the comedian Eddie Perfect’s experience and those of other well-known Australians, as told in Don’t Peak at High School: From Bullied to A-list, edited by Fiona Scott-Norman.

Perfect recalls, ”I was always creative and wanted to be successful and do something unique but none of that was ever recognised at school. . . . It worries me. I think high school is getting so career focused. They want to form you and then send you off in a particular direction.”

This sense of disengagement is felt by young people when their passions and interests do not necessarily line up with what the broader community might value as part of a school education.

Now, technology can make any school a specialist school. It requires key ingredients such as flexible school design, personalised curriculum, equipped, passionate and supported professionals, vision-led leadership and a parent community that accepts school today needs to look and feel quite different from their experiences.

The kindergarten child of 2011 was born in 2006. If her parents were 30 when she was born, they probably left school about 1994. So much of our world has changed since then. Technology and the internet have shifted the game and the school life this kindergarten child has begun should prepare her for a world to come, rather than a world that has been.While not playing down the importance of literacy and numeracy, young people are now taught practical skills as they need them, rather than learning everything ”just in case”.

So the essential skills of the 21st century schools include collaboration, problem-solving, analytical thinking, creativity and resilience. These skills can be more effectively taught and modelled in a school that should look and feel significantly different from the experience of one teacher and 30 students locked in a room all day learning from texts that will need to be reprinted in a couple of years.

Outside the school gate, our young people experience a dynamic, innovative and creative world, yet so often it is a foreign environment. Many educators are now passionate about transforming schools; they are questioning the relevance of the accepted processes of assessment and delivery of content. They are not seeking to transform schools to make their job better or easier; they believe if they are to engage young people as learners then schools must be radically different.

Nostalgia often paints a picture of the school that parents may seek for their children. This picture can be informed by happy memories or the sense that ”it didn’t do me any harm”, to which I want to reply, ”how do you know*”.

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* this part was changed by the editor to: “maybe it did”. I preferred the original.

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