Happy New Year – reasons for optimism?
So it’s a new year, 2013, and time to look back for a moment on what has happened, and to look forward to the coming year.
There is, I think, a reasonable consensus, certainly amongst my own friends and colleagues, and indeed many others I have encountered both offline and online over the past year, that the education system in the UK is in a mess, and is not serving its users well.
The coalition government, Michael Gove in particular, made a bad start amongst other things by ignoring digital technology completely, despite the pleas of hundreds, nay thousands, of teachers and educationalists that in the 21st century digital technology has, or should have a pivotal role in education.
The overriding organisational issue of the past of how one teacher can ‘teach’ a whole class full of pupils and give each the attention they deserve can at last be addressed by making apposite use of digital technology. This can allow each pupil to undertake their own personalised learning journeys so that it shouldn’t matter that, for example, summer born children may be sat side by side with classmates who could be almost a year older than them. It can allow each learner to learn at their own pace, and in ways most suited to them as an individual. It brings with it the promise of user directed learning that can allow each learner to achieve their potential, to shine in the things that suit them the best.
All very laudable, but wholly ignored by Michael Gove until the Eric Schmidt (he of the mighty Google) turned his attention to education in the UK with a scathing attack on the teaching of Computer Science in our schools. He was referring to the teaching of ICT which has been god damned awful. Schmidt is right and his pronouncements did act as a wake up call to Gove whose response was to pass the problem back to the educationalists themselves because he did not have the least idea of what to do with it, and then, after he had got his breath, to work with others of his choosing to the same end. As ever this is inconsistent and rather confusing but unsurprising for a man whose latest ‘good idea’ to save money is to ban the use of curves in new school buildings – honestly!
But it isn’t’ the teaching of Computer Science in schools, albeit of value, that represents the paradigm shift in education that many talk about. For me it is the promise of personalisation that is the biggy. The thought that there is a coherent way forward (and there is) towards a world that is not dominated by the false assumption that academic success is best and anything is else is, in different degrees, failure.
This idea has been a blight on education over the ages, and is a massive disservice to the many millions of young people who for whatever reason do not choose to follow an academic route and are therefore branded as second class. That is a disgrace, and it is something that we have the opportunity, now more than ever, to do something about.
It is digital technology that will act as a catalyst to this end, whether Gove and his cronies like it or not.
Already we have seen the daft spectre of a majority of schools banning mobile phones in the classroom, yet a majority of pupils completely ignoring that ban, happily whiling away their lessons texting underneath the desk which they are very adept at.
We see school and LEA policies making it as difficult as they can for schools to reasonably connect with the outside world, in the mistaken belief that they are being protective of the young people in their charge. But protecting from what? Don’t they realise that the moment their charges are outside the school gates the whole of the big bad internet is at their disposal. Shouldn’t they be teaching ‘safe surfing’ rather than banning it altogether?
In so many ways digital technology with its myriad forms of communication can enhance the learning experience, in so many ways it can motivate learning, in so many ways it can liberate our young people from the terrible constraints of an education system that serves the few and at best ignores the rest, at worst destroys innate confidence and competence.
But looking forwards there is reason for optimism in my view. Michael Gove has come, but will go. Every single teacher out there has the opportunity, whether they think so or not to change things for the better. As Sir Ken Robinson has said when a teacher closes the door on their classroom and it is them and their pupils, they are the education system. And more teachers are realising this, I think.
Digital technology itself is also becoming more accessible, more ubiquitous. With mobile devices like smartphones and tablet devices the digital divide is diminishing, although is not non existent. The concept of place is changing with the tools for learning being available anywhere, anytime. Significant change in the way we do things and the ways we learn is happening, and is happening despite, and not because of government interventions.
It is an unstoppable force, and that gives me reason for optimism.
Happy New Year to you all.
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