Dialogue: Challenges and Change in Education

I have the great privilege to work with a forward-thinking organization, Action Canada.  A leadership program for young Canadians, Action Canada explores topics of national interest and investigates ways to make improvements for Canada’s future.  This year, their theme is:  Does Canada have the education systems it needs to meet the economic and societal challenges of the future?

Today, at the Wosk Centre, Action Canada presented a Public Dialogue on Challenges and Change in Canada’s Education Systems.  The task forces brought together panels of experts to spark conversation on three topics:

  • Standardized Testing in Canada
  • Teaching Questions Not Answers
  • Who Cares About Young Caregivers?

Fortunately, I was able to take part in the second session:  Teaching Questions Not Answers.

This particular task force explored the subject of adapting Canada’s education system for the 21st century.  At the end of September, the Fellows had come to St Alcuin College, a liberal arts K-12 school offering a 21st century skills-based program.  They were especially interested to experience firsthand our unique learning environment, and how that was different from mainstream education.  After speaking to the faculty and students about what it meant to be living the learning revolution, one Fellow observed that at St Alcuin, changing education was a movement.  We can attest that education reform is a movement that requires intense energy, as stated today by Mr Rod Allen, Superintendent of the Ministry of Education’s Learning Division.

It was not a surprise to hear that the panellists were espousing the principles upon which we are founded at St Alcuin:  highly personalized education, community partnerships and an emergent curriculum.  One question posed to the panel was why it was not easy to implement this educational reform in schools across Canada.  One of the panellists, Dr. Roland Case, executive director and co-founder of The Critical Thinking Consortium, identified five “winning conditions” for educational reform.  As I understood them, they are:

  1. Students are engaged in their learning.  Instruction is not transmission from the teacher.
  2. There is sustained inquiry for learning.  This is a regular practice.
  3. Students have self-regulated control of tools.  They don’t just produce the action when required by a teacher, but know how and when to use the skill.
  4. Assessment is timely and supportive.
  5. Learning is digitally enhanced.

At St Alcuin College, in keeping with our studies in Big History, we recognize that these are the five ‘Goldilocks conditions’ to educational change.  These are our guiding principles in our daily teaching.

Thank you to Action Canada and the Fellows for bringing us together to discuss Canada’s education systems and the challenges to change.  It is a subject that so many are passionate about, and it is this passion that continually drives us to create these ‘Goldilocks conditions’ at St Alcuin College.

Sir Ken Robinson: Making progressive education mainstream

At TEDx London, Sir Ken Robinson concluded the day’s conference with a poignant reminder: “The reason why today’s conversation is so important is that we are living in revolutionary times; that’s why we need a revolution in education”.

He identifies two major drivers of change, population growth and technology, both of which are changing exponentially …

“And that rate of change is going to accelerate; it’s not going to decrease.  We’re not heading towards some calm pasture where all the change will be behind us; they will simply become more tumultuous”.  Therefore, we now have to take note of the magnitude of changes and challenges, and of the need to see education as key to the future.

“I think it’s important that we recognise the conversation is not happening in a vacuum.  It’s not a historical vacuum; it’s not a cultural vacuum”.  The issue is to make personalisation, an “intensive relationship between students and teachers”, customization and community involvement part of mainstream education (refer to the posting of December 5, 2011).

“The technologies we have available in the schools don’t make for great education, but great educators can make something great of them.” Change needs to happen to the technologies in themselves and in the way implement them to personalise education.

“If we are resilient, and if we invest in and believe properly in our true creative powers, if we apply them in all our educational settings, then we will begin to shape a different type of future for everybody”.  Sir Ken concludes by pledging his continued support of promoting change in education and of those who make it happen.

Watch the video of Sir Ken’s final remarks at TEDx, London; or download the transcript:

Direct download:
Outro by Sir Ken Robinson at TEDx, London -The Education Revolution September 17, 2011

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Final Remarks-Outro by Sir Ken Robinson at TEDx, London -The Education Revolution September 17, 2011

Sir Ken Robinson: The Learning Revolution continues …

“The reason I think we need a revolution [in education] is really captured in a phrase you hear politicians often misuse. They talk about the need to ‘get back to basics’ in education; and, I think, we should. The problem, I think, is that many politicians, when they say “get back to basics”, seem to believe the basics are a group of subjects that they did when they were at school; and in particular, they tend to emphasise literacy and numeracy and science. Well, of course, they are fantastically important; but the basics of education are not a group of subjects. The basics in education are fundamental purposes …”

“I find it interesting; people can talk all day about education, but never mention ‘learning’. And, therefore, what I’m arguing is that the education revolution has to be based on a radical commitment to improving learning, however that happens”.

Sir Ken Robinson
September 17, 2011

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In his latest talk, Sir Ken not only identifies the basics in education as “fundamental purposes” that manifest in economics, culture and personal realities; he markedly identifies specific core principles that would radically improve learning:

  1. Personalisation:
    “Education is not a mechanistic process; it is a process that depends upon the imaginations and interests of students being properly engaged. So, at the root of my call for a revolution is the need to personalise education”.“Every student has their own story; every student has their own menu of interests and of talents; it has to be about them. It has to be about improving the motivation and opportunities for creativity of teachers. Teaching is an art form; it’s not just a delivery system. Great teachers are people who know how to mediate their material in a way that really does inspire the imaginations and ignite the creativity of their students”.
  2. Customisation:
    “Wherever students learn, that is the education system for them. It’s not the committee rooms of our parliament buildings, it is not the boardrooms of our examinations boards; education happens in the schools or learning communities that students attend, and that for them is ‘the system. So, customising education to those students, to this place, these needs, this community, is absolutely critical”.
  3. Diversity:
    “Our current drive towards standardisation offends the principle of diversity on which human life depends and flourishes … human life is inherently diverse and we need to celebrate that in our school systems. Instead, too often, we subscribe to a rather bland menu of conformity.”
  4. Partnerships:
    “Education isn’t just what happens in formal school buildings; it should involve great institutions … like our great museums, our great science institutions; it should be a genuine partnership with the community more generally”.

Sir Ken maintains that these principles underpin the debate for revolutionising education and for moving beyond curricula per se; they provide the impetus to making education deeply personal by improving the quality of the learning.

Watch the video of Sir Ken’s inspirational introduction at TEDx, London; or download the transcript:

Direct download:
Introduction by Sir Ken Robinson at TEDx, London -The Education Revolution September 17, 2011

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Introduction by Sir Ken Robinson at TEDx, London -The Education Revolution September 17, 2011