The Glass Slipper of Education

There is a massive amount of change going on in the Education sector at the moment. There are restructures and changes to funding right through the system from primary to high school and right through to universities and higher education. In my last post I developed the metaphor of the Glass Slipper, but the basic premise is that quite often we confuse the problem with the solution, and the solution with the tool. I can see that this is whats happening to the education system right now. The changes that are afoot are not actually addressing the underlying problem in the education sector. Governments see the tools and mechanisms of the education system as the problem and are attempting to fix them, rather than focus on the problem at the heart of the matter. As I said before, clarity and vision are required to see past the Glass Slipper to what the real problem is and not get caught up in the hype and circus. The problem at the heart of education is not funding, staffing, testing, scores or rankings – it’s the learning experience, that’s what we need to fix.

So what is the Learning Experience? Well it is the individual experience of each individual student and how they go about the process of learning. This isn’t about generalising student populations by postcode, socio-economic status, sex, race or background – this is about focussing on each student as a distinct and unique individual and how we create an environment and a curriculum for them to learn.

What I am talking about is education for the 21st century. We need to ditch the 20th century factory model that we have had in place for more than a century or so. You know the one, where just like the Pink Floyd clip, students go in the grinder and are churned and mixed around, then at the other end are spat out happy, productive and educated members of society.

For many of us education was an ordeal, a chore that demanded hard work while at the same time was restricting, badly paced, out of step, out dated and done under some kind of authoritarian dictatorship. It created an environment that no-one actually wants to be a part of, one that they actively try to get out of – both teachers and students. I remember some of my dedicated teachers looking for ways to skirt around the system just as much as us kids on the top oval looked for ways to sneak a cheeky cigarette.

21st century education focuses on a number of areas but the key point is the individual learner. This isn’t an approach for bell curves, percentiles, averages, medians, classes and year groups. It’s about focusing in on each individual student and providing a rich, respectful and productive learning experience for them. So what does this entail? Well part of it includes –

  • Engaging Spaces
  • Engaging Content
  • Learning as a Skill
  • Technologically Literate
  • Relevant Curriculum

(Note: I’ll dip in and explore these in more detail in later posts.)

The root problem that we now see isn’t about funding models, deregulation, school principles having more power, state vs private – these are all tools, manifestations and issues – the actual problem is what is happening (or perhaps what is not happening) in the classroom. Focusing all the time and money in the world on these other areas – the ones that aren’t actually the problem – is a waste of time and effort.

The Learning Experience we are providing students isn’t up to scratch, it’s what is broken, and while we have been patching it for years its becoming apparent that it just doesn’t work. Too many children don’t graduate with basic skills and too many children get left behind. Not all of them, not a majority of them, but far too many for a country such as ours so rich and resourced. And those that do graduate, do they come out ready for society, for higher education or are they taught to the test? Are they prepared and equipped for life? Are those coming out of higher education any better or do they just inherit a HECS debt in the process?

What we need is a bit of time out, a bit of space. To reflect and think about what we want education to be! For most of us it is the formative experience of our lives – all our experiences, friendships, relationships, knowledge and understanding all spring from that experience. How can we make it better? How can we make it more enjoyable, engaging, thrilling and exciting? Yes, learning should be thrilling and exciting – but that’s not how most of us remember school. Think about your passion, did you ever have the same fear and dread you had for school when you were learning about that? That’s what education should be! It should be involved, inspiring and enjoyable, because deep down we all would want that experience for ourselves.


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