Noting the general malaise in education reported in the Western world I’m keen to explore solutions. In the past, the standard response to widespread teacher dissatisfaction has been a pay rise but I don’t think that will address the underlying problems this time, as they are much more structural.
The problem is more fundamental than that, and the common strand that I pick up from colleagues on four continents is that the application of IT solutions and a culture of managerialism (in which schools are simply another essentially ‘industrial process’ in which the aim is to maximise outputs and minimise inputs) has dehumanised and made less relevant the skills and enthusiasm of teachers and the human focus on the development of the learning potential of every child.
Consequently, attempts are made to bolt on partial solutions to a fatally flawed curriculum model. SEND, Mindfulness, Emotional Intelligence, Emotional Welfare, Anti-Bullying, PSHE, Citizenship and myriad other elements are attached, with more or less effectiveness, to an excessive and increasingly irrelevant content-based curriculum. Schools effectively engage in a rationing process, whittling away at children until those deemed suitable for university entrance remain at age 18.
I see little appetite in the Western world for a fundamental review of the scope, methodology and structure and processes of what should constitute a 21st century, quality assured educational experience for all that promotes lifelong learning and propagates a range of attitudes, behaviours and competencies for life beyond school.
Those nations which have undergone such a review, and indeed a national debate, have come to remarkably similar conclusions about the shape and scope of a relevant contemporary education, despite having contrasting cultural starting points.
Singapore and Finland both recognise the primacy of the child and their individual needs as the starting point for learning. Both have an inclusive culture for learning and belonging in schools.
Both nations recognise that information and knowledge is ubiquitous in the information age so attempting to cherry-pick individual nuggets of information as key, when information is expanding exponentially is madness.
Both nations are adopting project-based learning as they recognise that being able to analyse a problem, gather supporting evidence to synthesise understanding and propose relevant potential solutions which can be actioned is the way forward. This also ensures that principles learned in school are directly relevant to their experience of the adult world.
What is to be done in the Western world given that there is so little appreciation or appetite for such a fundamental review?
In conversation with colleagues in India, Australia, the US, Canada and Europe, I sense an increasing demand for a more relevant approach to curriculum renewal. I am conscious that as I am promoting a ‘bolt-on’ solution in the short term, I risk falling into the trap outlined above. However, my proposal has met with much encouragement to date…
I propose developing an accredited project management module for students and teachers which mirrors the process-based approach with which any teachers involved in building projects and dealing with architects and building contractors will be familiar.
There are many project management process products on the market going by a variety of different names, but all are designed to bring projects to a successful conclusion from conception to actualisation.
Developing these processes for a school audience will free learning from a massive burden of prescribed content. Instead, students will be introduced to sound planning principles and the need to work within a moral and environmentally sound framework to deliver successful projects on time and specified costs. What they learn in school will be directly applicable in the world of work and in their family and community lives.
Being principle-based and content free, the same spine of learning is applicable internationally, irrespective of individual cultural drivers. Students would be encouraged to develop their own projects based on the principles, thereby encouraging engagement. There may be broad project themes such as Sound Financial Management, Positive Impact on the Environment, Lifelong Learning, Planning Successful Careers, Healthy Lifestyles, Me Contributing to the Community, Managing my Time: Work and Leisure.
For each key theme, local stakeholders, such as employers and community groups could supply templates, and possibly finance to enable the outcomes to be accredited.
What I envisage has some antecedents, but I feel that this is the first time that the broad idea has been expanded under an umbrella of accredited international courses developed and delivered in schools.
Some may recognise elements of the International Baccalaureate, the Scouting Movement or the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme here, and I would hope that the best elements of all those worthy programmes would be embedded in the new award.
I am very keen to talk to senior education leaders about these proposals so that I can have as firm a foundation as possible to move the proposal to fruition.
I’ve had over two decades in which to ruminate on educational futures as a classroom teacher, middle and senior leader in education involved in IT transformations in learning and Building Schools for the Future. I was seconded to the RSA Academy as part of the team developing the Opening Minds Curriculum, which resulted from conversations between the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) about a more relevant and appropriate curriculum model for the future. I am also the author of the cultural change in schools books, Future Proof Your School and Re-imagining Success which provided a philosophical and practical programme for implementing developmental changes to the culture of schools.
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