Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Clear and Present Danger - A Minister of Education

This was written by Stephen Murgatroyd who is an author, consultant, imaginer - engaged in a wide range of activities around the world. Fun, imaginative, witty... and available for consulting and writing assignments. This post first appeared on his blog here. Murgatroyd tweets here and blogs here.

by Stephen Murgatroyd

A Minister of Education, a former teacher, who does not understand schooling and the need for the transformation of schooling is a clear and present danger to society, its economic competitiveness and to the future of literally thousands of young people. But it can happen.

A Minister who does not understand that by teaching less, students can learn more through their project based learning and engaged co-creation of knowledge is a dangerous Minister. Just because teaching has changed since this Minister gave up the profession doesn’t mean we have to go back to how it was.

A Minister who sees time on task for teachers as more important as quality learning through school based curriculum is a dangerous Minister. Such a Minister does not understand that centralized curriculum which specifies what and how students learn is no longer the “right” solution to the challenges of todays classroom. What is needed are teachers, using a Provincial framework for learning outcomes, developing curriculum which has meaning and value to the students in their classroom now. This takes preparation time for quality learning.

A Minister who has been seduced by the technology vendors into thinking that Wi-Fi on school buses and more technology in classrooms is a dangerous Minister. There is no compelling evidence that, after spending close to $2 billion on technology since 1998 in a single Province, learning outcomes have changed or improved as a result. Indeed, by focusing on enhanced classroom driven learning that makes use of the talents and professionalism of teachers as well as the willingness and enthusiasm of learners is likely to be a better investment than Wi-Fi on school buses, iPads for every child or a Smart-Board in every classroom.

A Minister who is not sure that replacing standardized tests with a focus on quality assurance is a dangerous Minister. Standardized testing for all students at certain grades is, at best, an expensive distraction and, at worst, a recipe for stagnation. The tests tell us little about learning and even less about teaching. Some politicians think they are tests of teaching quality. Some think they determine school outcomes and should influence resource allocations. Most of us know that they are like a Kodak-moment taken in the dark on a windy afternoon. What we need is a refocus on assessment of student learning which can influence learning outcomes. In terms of public assurance, we need a system of public assurance, built around school development plans, sampling of students and experimental and research based evidence. 

A Minister who doesn’t understand that the key to success in any school system are highly engaged and satisfied teachers working with students who feel highly engaged in their learning is a clear and present danger to our education system. The best predictors of student outcomes are teacher satisfaction and student engagement. A Minister who is seeking to minimize the former and ignore the latter is a clear and present danger to the system. Good solid work on rethinking curriculum is being abandoned in the name of expediency, popularism and the ambitions of the Minister.

Education matters. It matters because all of our future depends on more smart people with high level skills, especially in the trades and in the creative and imagination professions, being in more places in our workforce. We need creative, team playing, mindful and productive citizens with keen literacy skills, skills in critical thinking and a passion for design to enter all trades, professions and areas of work. We need them now.

A Minister who stalls true educational change and transformation is a danger to the future prosperity and well-being of a community.

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