Archive for November, 2010

Two kinds of school; two kinds of teacher.

November 24, 2010

The changes in school education being proposed by the new government here in the UK are flushing out quite a lot of comment from teachers on ICT-in-education lists. Given that the contributors are teachers who can see how ICT is changing learning for the better, and changing the world in which pupils will live, some of their comments on the schools they work in are very depressing. We really do have schools that have not grasped how the lives of many young people are changing, schools failing to engage significant sections of their pupils with consequent damage on the learning of the rest.

I have been optimistic these last 25 years that ICT can catalyse the move from schools as places where pupils are taught, whether they like it or not, to places where pupils take responsibility for their own learning, willingly and with some delight in learning. This taking of personal responsibility for learning by pupils is the ONLY common factor I have seen in schools where learning is proceeding better because of the way ICT is being used to support changes in approach to teaching and learning. And we do now have 10% or maybe 20% of schools in the UK where this is happening really well.

But recently I have come to feel that there is no way that some schools and teachers can be encouraged into this new level of education provision in a smooth and progressive way that does not disrupt the learning of whole cohorts of pupils. Jim Knight, the former Schools Minister, speaking recently at the Building Better Schools Conference, stated that “the current paradigm for schools has been pushed as far as it can go”. So even members of the last government are coming to accept that radical change is now essential.

The question for a government is how to create radical change. A lot of people don’t like change and it is very hard to persuade them to change. You need big and powerful levers. The next statement is heresy for all who believe (as I do) in the necessity for inclusive education that works for all young people, to guard against a divided society and for our country’s economic success. But maybe the end does justify the means – maybe the only way that many schools and teachers can be forced to step up to the big change in education that is needed is for there to be failures of schools, sufficient to cause social outrage. Make sure that all government support is removed from bodies and groups that are trying to even-out educational provision. Support and promote the very best so that a clear gap opens up between good schools that are properly preparing young people to thrive in work and life and let anger and desperation of the public force the not-so-good to change.

The key question of course is whether the schools that public opinion comes to recognise as ‘good’ are those that have reverted to an elitist approach, selecting the academically able for whom didactic teaching still works, as they can build around this their broader learning – or schools that have worked out how to engage and excite pupils of all abilities and backgrounds, creating cohesive communities of learning, using ICT in ways that build pupils’ capacity to take advantage of the networked world.

As the government is not going to have the money for big initiatives to direct schools towards an elitist approach (if this really is their preferred future for education) what emerges as the public perception of ‘good’ schools is largely going to be in the hands of the schools themselves – and in the hands of the media who will distort national perceptions according to their prejudices, to the degree that communities and the public generally allow.

There really is everything to fight for, if those who believe and are implementing radical, ICT-enabled changes to learning and schooling are prepared to put their heads above the parapet and trumpet their success.

Winston Churchill said “If you are going through Hell, keep going!”. If there is to be the hell of the failure of some schools and major differences between the educational opportunities and experience of young people in different communities, the faster we go through this period, the better.