I had the privilege yesterday of presenting a submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee on 21st Century Learning Environments and Digital Literacy with two of my CORE colleagues, Nick Billowes and Deanne Thomas. This committee has been meeting for some time now, hearing submissions from a variety of groups and individuals around NZ, with an outcome expected later this year (I hope).
The terms of reference for the group are pretty wide ranging, and the CORE response ran to over twenty pages of feedback and recommendations that were collated as the result of widespread consultation among the 100+ staff working in all areas of the education system across New Zealand.
The three main points we made in our oral submission were:
- Our system as a whole is lacking aspirational leadership, resulting in lots of disparate effort being applied to 'parts of the whole'.
- We need to approach what is happening with eLearning with an 'end-to-end' view of things, providing an opportunity for people in all parts of the system to see and understand how they contribute to the whole.
- We need a well defined and shared understanding of the characteristics of 21st century learning, and how these apply to an shape what we need to consider for the future.
It was useful to hear the oral submissions made by several other groups in the morning session, and perhaps even more interesting to hear the nature of the questions being asked by the members of the select committee itself. Evident in many of the questions were the clear agendas of the various political parties represented, but there also appeared to be a genuine concern to engage with and understand the issues being raised by the various presenters.
It disappointed me that the issue selected to be reported from the meeting was reported as "Teachers don't understand new tech" in an article on the Radio New Zealand website. This disappointed me not because I don't think there's truth in the statement, but because it's really only a consequence of a much greater set of issues and concerns that need to be addressed within our education system, in society and in government. We stand at a point in human history similar to what was experienced around the time of the industrial revolution. Change is massive and paradigm-shifting, and not clearly appreciated or understood by us all. It is inevitable that people will feel they are being 'overwhelmed' and 'can't keep up', including teachers, but it's of little use to focus on that as the issue – the focus needs to be on how we can resolve that, and what steps need to be taken to ensure the necessary change(s) occur in our education system for the sake of our current learners and future citizens.
It is my hope that the select committee process might succeed in making some in-roads here, although political positioning will inevitably inhibit truly visionary and aspirational thinking. So it is up to leaders in the wider community (BOTs, principals, senior staff, Ministry officials etc.) to ensure they engage with and contribute to the discussions in proactive and solution-seeking ways.