Everyone is an expert on education because we have all had some. Depending on whom you are and what epoch one attended school, and indeed the school type and the experience of school good or bad, will taint one with the life-long brush of education. So here is the problem: every student I see today and in fact since 2010, in grade nine has only been to school in the 21st Century.
Every educator who teaches those students in our schools has only been to school in the 20th Century, and indeed from the median age data for our education system, is a baby-boomer. Baby-boomers teaching gen Y and gen z....and soon gen alpha!
And here is the scariest concept of all. When was our education system designed and developed and for whom, by whom and for what reason? Well, our education system was an outcome of the industrial revolution and the age of enlightenment. Yes, we are delivering 21st century learning in a system that was developed in the 18th Century for the needs of that epoch developed in an age of so called enlightenment.
The age of enlightenment was of course an era when class systems prevailed, hereditary peerage determined the ruling class and knowledge was created in a way that is quite different to our current era.
Imagine if we used 18th Century technology to communicate, to fly aircraft, to power our PCs and automobiles.....
That industrial era or epoch created an education system that mimicked the factory model of the day. Stuff was made in batches and stamped according to production date, sort of like the way we spit-out the class of 2011! Good year that one! The industrial model was applied to compartmentalization of learning, production models of teaching were applied and it was about standardization to ensure all was the same and that quality remained measurable and acceptable. It still happens, 200 years later. It’s happening to the class of 2011, the students who have only gone to school in the 21st century.
It even goes so far as to create the ringing sirens and bells of the shift changes in the factory, which still happens in schools. I have yet to meet a grade nine teenager who requires a bell to tell them when to meet a friend or to catch a bus to a movie or fast food outlet. And yet we send them every day to the learning factory and ring bells at them as if they are incapable of telling the time!
Our students live in the most inspiring epoch and age in human history, the “right now”. They are bombarded with information and technology at every corner, hundreds of TV stations, on-line games and connections to real and virtual communities, instant information about, well, just about everything. Flashing billboards, international travel, fast food, fast cars, fast everything. They can do dozens of things simultaneously, from skate to txt to video to call mum (or mom depending on where you are!) to order pizza to battle the infidels to learn to fly and that is on the way to school as they hold a conversation with their boy-girlfriend!
And what do we get them to do when they arrive at school: well usually none of that I describe that they are really good at! We make them sit in compliant rows, listen to the sea of boring stuff delivered in usually boring ways from someone who went to school in another century! And we wonder why they are disruptive!!! They are amped up and raring to go and we tell them to sit down and be quiet to listen to my really important class! We need to do something and do it fast! Because they learn fast!
We talk about learning being engaging these days. We can measure engagement. My research colleagues at Monash University, Gippsland Australia share my disdain for standardized testing and what it has and is doing to our content and approaches to education. We want to change the educational world by changing what we measure because that drives what is intended to be delivered to students in our schools.
When stuff is engaging to us, we are totally absorbed in the activity and moment. We can see that in kids in some learning activities. They describe time as flying, having no meaning because all that is important is the activity and what they are doing (and learning). Researchers and academics have used terms like “flow experience” and self actualization” to describe these behaviours and experiences. Casinos know how to do this to adults....engage them in handing over their money, for free with no effort! Gaming creators know how to do this and hence kids can be engaged in those activities for hours. In these experiences, we are completely connected in the aesthetic moment; we resound and resonate, connect and tune in our hearts and minds with the activity and the task.
Schools do the opposite. They are an anesthetic for our students. The stuff we do and how we do it is often numbing. And if the kids are too excited, we call it ADD or put them on a spectrum and drug them and anesthetize them some more with dangerous drugs.
So our kids today are coping with and learning in the most exciting era in the human history by being drugged.
The stuff we are teaching and the way we are teaching it is not engaging to contemporary students. There are bright sparks of light in the education system, individuals and some schools (our school I would argue is one of them). But generally, we deliver boring stuff to students in boring ways, especially at grade nine. If we taught engaging content to students because we were going to measure it, we know as researchers that this is the current best practice in predicting literacy numeracy and other desirable outcomes in schools. And if we did that, we would have to differentiate the teaching to suit the different students in the cohorts. And if we did that too, we would have to do it in a contemporary manner that reflects the generation that we are teaching to. That is, kids who have only been to school in the 21st Century.
This is not at all beyond us. We actually know how to do this and when. The place to start is year nine, our middle years of school. They deserve it because they want to thrive in their future.