Horse first, then the cart: Vision before programs

Putting the cart before the horse

It is very easy to come up with the good ideas, someone says “we should do [insert idea here]”. Unless ideas flow from a bold compelling vision, we are merely making the existing paradigm a little shinier. Programs are great, but only when they are part of the strategy to achieve the overall vision

A bold new vision actually changes the paradigm, programs don’t

I have written before about the need to articulate a new vision for education in Australia. New programs – whether they are building programs, computer/technology programs or testing programs are only polishing the status quo, it suddenly looks better, people may be initially impressed, however, in reality, nothing has changed, nor has it moved us forward.

When vision is first, then the programs follow, programs that support the vision are identified. The cart comes after the horse for a very good reason.

Despite how each cabinet minister may regard his or her own portfolio, we know that education is the most important one (bias acknowledged), because it carries the authority to bring change that can impact every child in the nation and thereby contribute to our country’s ongoing success.

Imagine it, a whole nation of people whose educational experience allows for their unique contribution to be expressed and affirmed. This education needs to be both rigorous and flexible (in a range of ways) to be able to feed the passion within each individual.

If we have a vision for education like this:

Australia is internationally recognised for the rich school education that every child experiences, providing the essential skills for life, so that each child will have the opportunity to be an engaged learner whose individual interests and abilities are recognised and affirmed to reach their own potential and add value to the community.

Australia is internationally recognised: we become the country that the world looks to for quality and depth of learning

The rich school education: Depth of knowledge and experiences

Every child experiences: It doesn’t matter where they live, what type of school they go to or how they learn

Providing the essential skills for life: Foundational skills, such as literacy and numeracy, are essential but also the skills for life in the 21st C like collaboration, teamwork, problem solving and creativity

So that each child will have the opportunity: Every school in the nation will be deliberately designed with the learner in mind – the physical learning environment, the delivery of curriculum and provision of learning experiences, and ubiquitous technology that allows for a seamless transition from outside school life to inside school life.

To be an engaged learner whose individual interests and abilities are recognised and affirmed: A personalised approach to the provision of learning experiences, one that recognises that education is not one-size-fits-all. Technology and global connectedness is the game changer in educational innovation and provides a wealth of opportunities for rich learning experiences that the industrial era paradigm just can’t manage.

Will add value to the community:  Can you imagine the difference it will make if we provide the conditions to maximise learning, when young people find out what they are good at/interested in and are given permission to pursue this?

Implicit in this vision is the need for passionate, engaged and highly skilled professionals who will administer and lead the educational communities and teach* our children.

Creativity, innovation and problem-solving are the currency of the new millennium. We need a vision for school education that recognises the times in which we live. Many schools and systems are making advances in transforming school education, however, a bold vision from the top will set a standard and make the difference to every corner of our nation.


*Teach: referring to the planning, programming and delivery of learning experiences where the skill of teaching is one among others,  including facilitator, guide, mentor, coach

A new vision for a new paradigm: An open letter to the Australian School Education Minister

There is a groundswell for change, yet until there is a vision for educational reform at the highest level, then we are doing a disservice to the great majority of our young people and our nation.

Dear Mr Garrett,

It’s time. Time to shake up the school education system in this country. Not just for the sake of it, but for the sake of this generation and generations to come.

The world is different, young people are different. Technology has changed everything. Learning can occur anywhere, anytime – not just between the hours of 9am – 3pm, Monday to Friday for 40 weeks a year in a rectangular classroom with 30 others of the same age, learning the same thing at the same time.

So much of our education system reflects the past – mass production of the industrial era, the agrarian calendar and mid-20thC family structure. Our school system boxes education to fit a paradigm based on nostalgia, rather than relevancy.

This can change. We need a new vision for school and learning for Australia, one that challenges convention and stretches individuals to think beyond their own school experiences and toward a better future for this generation and generations to come.

Minister, you need to provide that vision. It will take courage, guts and determination. So to help out, here are a few things to put on the agenda:

Students are different: Technology has changed everything. Just about all they need to know can be accessed anytime, anywhere. Technology is no longer a ‘tool’, it is the environment in which they reside and social networks are their communities, we must embrace this rather than fear it. The look and feel of school and learning must inspire and engage to encourage lifelong learners.

Teachers need new role descriptions: If knowledge can be accessed anytime, anywhere – then the work of the teacher has significantly changed. ‘Teaching’ is now one skill amongst many. They also need to be coaches, guides, mentors and leaders. They must learn and apply new skills. Dispassionate, negative and bored teachers discourage and hurt kids, turning them off learning and coming to school. Australia should be attracting the top graduates to the teaching profession because they are passionate and called, not because they see teaching as a ‘lifestyle choice’.

Content and delivery structured to reflect the needs of the learner and the community. If students are different and we are asking teachers to work in new ways, then the prescribed content should be addressed. Successful adults are self-aware, therefore it is essential, to help students understand themselves as learners structuring the content and delivery of learning in a way that enables them to build on their strengths. Personalised learning is the key to this. Subjects, timetables, one teacher to 30 students, age-related grade groupings and content-only assessments currently reinforces the industrial-era approach to school. Radical change is required.

Buildings and furniture are crucial to providing the environment that is conducive to learning. Building design, air quality, temperature and furniture make a significant impact. Resources must be allocated to create inspiring, attractive and comfortable environments. Teachers will feel valued and students will want to come to school. Today, schools must look like the creative and collaborative workspaces in the city, rather than factories and prisons.

Education reform needs to transcend the three-year election cycle. Australia’s young people deserve better than this. We need a vision for learning with deliberate effort and dedicated resources to transform schools across the nation into places that are inspiring and creative places to learn. At the same time, schools still need to teach the skills and provide knowledge, scaffolding young people as they reach their potential and pursue their hopes and dreams.

There are many like-minded, passionate educators across our nation and around the globe. We are doing our best in our own contexts, yet so much more can be done once there is vision-led leadership at the highest level.

Minister, we are relying on you, for the future of this generation, the generations to come and the prosperity of our nation.

Kind regards,

Anne Knock

Passionate educationalist who personally knows the value of working in her strengths and fulfilling potential.