I don’t want to look back on the first two decades of the 21st century and have people say,
“remember the open classroom fad of the 70s? We repeated it again and it fell on its face, again”.
Things have changed a bit in the 20-teens from the 70s, and it’s different from the 80s and 90s when school education (apparently) had to get back-to-basics, again.
“Australia’s population is booming. With it will come more school students – an estimated 650,000 more by 2026, an increase of 17% from today. Many new schools will be needed” (The Conversation, 2016)
As write I look out my window at the brand new shiny primary school building across the road. A government school, with dispensing the standard template, breaking with tradition and designing school for the young learners that is not merely a ‘container’ to house them during the day, but is purposeful, with a striking design. With this level of investment in the coming years across Australia, we need to get it right. This ‘it’ has three parts
- Design for flexibility, adaptability aesthetics, and be able to roll with change
- Equip school leadership to provide clarity, support and encouragement to lead change
- Support teachers’ thinking and practice to be aligned with the future-focused direction
I’m what they call an ‘early career researcher’ at Melbourne University, one who is in her later career stages. I’m pursuing this cause because I want the best education for this and future generations, not my experience of school. I would love to see school as a place that is attractive or ‘sticky’ in the community because of the depth of learning, the quality of the teaching, the strength of the relationships and the beauty of the surroundings. I think each of these matters.
I was one of those teachers in the 1980-90s. As a primary school teacher I embraced the ‘whole language’ model. As the name suggests, the whole language approach took a ‘wholistic’ mindset to literacy, learning to read by reading real books and writing meaningfully for a real audience. It took a lot of work to embed phonics, grammar and spelling into the real-world context, rather than commercial reading schemes. We could see the love of literature and writing growing in the children. But as with so many trends, there was a dark-side. Some saw this as licence to do nothing, let children learn by absorption, and so it died a humiliating death, and we got the ‘back to basics’ message, again.
We seem to be susceptible to the pendulum metaphor in education. The pendulum clock, is a relic of the past, and perhaps the metaphor has had its ‘time’, so to speak. Being a watchmaker’s daughter I grew up appreciating quality time pieces. Today, people value quality watches, but I don’t see too many pendulum clocks, except perhaps in antique shops or quaint rural tearooms. This idea of time is important. This work we are engaged in, on rethinking learning and redesigning schools is a product of an important time in history. Designing the school differently makes a physical statement that things have changed and the way we work now is very different from where we have come from (and we aren’t going back).
If there is one thing that I admire the most about Finland, it’s something I heard over there, but not often written or spoken about widely. Education is not a political football, thrown back and forth at each election campaign, by each party. The Finnish National Board of Education told us that education is non-partisan. The direction is set and is not necessarily a bargaining point for each successive election. I don’t suppose the politicians are exclaiming the ‘back to basics’ message at each political cycle. The educators are just given the leadership to get on with the job.
Set a course for the future, acknowledges where we’ve come from, cast a vision of where we are going to, and then stick to it.