Education is broken – but it doesn’t have to be

If you read this blog regularly you will know that my heart weeps for education.
At a time in which the world faces its greatest ever challenges, we are returning to
models of education that were essentially developed 200 years ago.

In Australia, we have the NAPLAN and
MySchool which are regressive simplistic
measures of student and school performance respectively. It is as though we have not moved a
millimetre from the industrial revolution model of education since wide scale public education
became common in the mid 19th Century.

In addition the Australian federal Education Minister,
Julia Gillard, declaring herself
a world expert on education has just announced a ‘back to basics’
national curriculum.

Kevin Donnelly, one of the most
conservative education commentators in the country has completed a 180 degree shift on national
testing. Previously one of the strongest and most vocal advocates for public accountability of
schools through ‘league tables’ Donnelly

now argues
that the evidence from overseas indicates that these measures do not increase
educational performance.

In this piece on the ABC website, he argues:

…an argument is put that test scores, while giving the impression of being scientific,
are not completely objective or reliable. In addition, standardised, multiple and short answer
tests (like Australia’s National Assessment Programme Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)) measure a
limited range of skills as schools are forced to narrow “the curriculum towards the knowledge
and skills that are easy to assess on such tests”


Jeremy Ludowyke
, principal of
Melbourne High School,
(itself ranked #1 on literacy in Victoria), pointing out that his school is one of those that
stands to gain the most from national comparisons of the type promoted by MySchool describes
the whole initiative as ‘nonsense’
(The Age 8/2/10.)

At heart these initiatives are based on a belief that 

  • teachers have a cosy life and have little or no interest in providing high quality education
  • education has been hijacked by left wing ideology (eg see this piece by Donnelly)
  • parents demands are more important than the view of educators

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Wide scale public education was a mid 19th Century response to the industrial revolution.

Many argue that as a result it was modelled on the successes of industrial production. Children could be treated as items to be produced. You start with raw materials and apply the same processes consistently to produce items of consistent quality. Put all children through the same education and they will all learn the same things. Of course, some children are ‘naughty’ or ‘lazy’ and refuse to either apply themselves or to learn. But, by and large, the successful products of the system have similar characteristics.

Right there, at the beginning of public education, we were confronted with a dilemma. Do we educate children to provide fodder for the industrial machine or do we educate them to produce thinking individuals who will experience better lives because of their ability to make decisions for themselves?

We have never fully addresses this dilemma.

Perhaps we don’t have to. Perhaps we have moved beyond the industrial revolution to a place where educated, independent thinking individuals able to make independent decisions are what we need as a post industrial society and is also a socially just outcome of education.

In a future article I will discuss ‘modern’ approaches to education and how they might indeed be just what we need.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>