More on personalising learning

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I spent yesterday with a group of intermediate and secondary teachers in Levin, followed by a community meeting chaired by the Mayor for Horowhenua. The focus was on how the community in that district might be able to play a greater role in supporting the work of the local schools in educating their students. I shared with them the publication on Personalising Learning I blogged about yesterday, in particular, the section on “Strong and engaged communities”.

Encouragingly, there was quite a bit of interest in this, with each person bringing their own level of understanding and interpretation of personalising learning to the discussion. One thing that I noticed was that there was a general assumption in the meetings that personalised learning should be a feature at all levels of our education system, with some discussion taking place at the meeting around the importance of the transition points in our education system (primary to intermediate, intermediate to secondary etc). This is something I whole-heartedly agree with, and it was doubly pleasing in this context as this was exactly what the community meeting in Levin was setting out to do. But as Stephen pointed out in his comment to my post yesteray, this is something that the NZ discussion document fails to recognise, focusing solely on personalising learning within the compulsory school sector.

All this said, I was interested to read tonight an article by BBC News education correspondent Mike Baker, in which he shares some concerns he has about the personalised learning initiative in the UK. In his article, titled Tailoring lessons for every pupil, Baker claims that, in their efforts to implement personalised learning in UK schools, educators will, again, have failed to realised the importance of taking parents, employers and other lay people along with them on the ride to the latest new thing.

Agreeing that change in our school system is overdue, Baker goes on to report on how the use of ICT has also failed to fulfill its promise if bringing about that change. He quotes Andrew Pinder, chair of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta), who told a conference this week that schools are “one of a relatively small number of industries that do not look as if they have changed much over the past 30 years”.

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Earlier this year, Becta published its annual report which has been summed up as saying that much money has been spent on IT in UK education with little discernible return. Pinder is reported as saying that Becta research concludes that about 15% of the UK’s 25,000 schools have shown some gains in performance as a result of the technology that’s been poured into them.

I came across a more forthright version of Pinder’s speech on Donald Clark’s Blog post titled BECTA on the offensive, in which he (Clark) begins with:

In a blistering analysis on the wasted spend in schools, the new Chair of BECTA, Andrew Pindar, blamed the teaching profession as being the block on progress.

These reports from the UK, who have been the trailblazers for the path NZ is about to follow, provide some stern warnings that we’d be best to take on board lest we find ourselves having similar things being written about us in the future. The things we need to take on board include:

  • there’s some courageous leadership required if we are to achieve a radically different view of schools and schooling. This will require risk taking and vision – the current climate of extreme risk aversion is stifling such leadership.
  • We must address the policy issues that are creating some of the biggest blocks to us achieving these changes – the standard patterns of lesson delivery to classes of 30 kids in square classrooms is as much to do with the policies that support this as it is with teachers not wanting to change
  • personalising learning must impact across all levels of our system – both life-long and life-wide, so let’s quickly get to the next version of a document that reflects this, and engage all levels of the education system in the discussions.
  • the involvement of communities must be pivotal in all of this, not just as a something that is “ticked off” because it is referred to in the document. There must be meaningful engagement and collaboration, much of it initiated by community leaders, not leaving it solely to school leaders and principals.
  • Technology/ICT of in and of itself will not bring about the change that is required. ICT can enable and facilitate powerful shifts in behaviour and thinking, but on its own it is not a “magic bullet”.

I’ll end my little rant with another quote from Clark’s blog post:

Schools, in [Pinder’s] opinion, are organised in the wrong way. They need institutional reform, not management by individuals. One must separate the institution from its staff. In education the workers are in control and run the system for their benefit. They can’t go out of business, are massively funded and supported by the state and have therefore have no reason to reform themselves. Reform must come from the outside.

Now there’s a serious challenge to the current way we think within the New Zealand political and education system!

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