The long awaited report from the parliamentary inquiry into 21st Century Learning environments has just been released and makes for some good reading IMHO.
I had the opportunity to contribute to four of the submissions made to this committee, wearing different hats for each, and so have a keen interest in the process and its outcome. Despite the rather confusing terms of reference that the committee was charged with reporting on, the final report provides a pretty fair summary of the things I heard being discussed by the submitters I spoke to.
One of the things that came through very strongly for me as I read this report is the repeated plea for leadership. There are 24 separate references to this in the document, with the following recommendation summing up pretty much where I think things need to be focussed:
That [government] recognise that 21st century learning will require significant change across the education sector, involving a wide range of stakeholders; and that the Government recognise achieving such a change needs government- and sector-wide leadership to develop and promote a vision, and to lead an integrated series of work programmes to implement that vision. (italics mine)
The latter part of this recommendation could apply to a myriad of programmes and projects within the education sector at the moment where significant change appears to be the norm. This is highlighted for me as I read another report released today, this one from the ombudsman's office, concerning an investigation into the Ministry of Education’s management of OIA requests about proposed Christchurch school closures.
The apparent breakdown here is a failure to demonstrate leadership in the way communication was (or wasn't) maintained with the wide range of stakeholders as the Ministry worked with them (and the Council) as everyone worked together to develop and implement a shared vision.
This, together with today's announcement of the resignation of the Secretary of Education, demonstrates to me that we have a crisis of leadership in our education community at present – at a time when, more than ever one may argue, it is required.
The point I'd like to emphasise here is the fact that the sort of leadership being urged in the select committee report isn't bound up in a single person – it is government and sector-wide leadership. The call is for a unified and focused approach across the sector, an approach that reflects then the process of consultation and engagement with the sector and stakeholders. That is the leadership we need.
Back to the parliamentary inquiry report, setting aside the fact that most of the recommendations are couched in non-committal language that the cynics will recognise allow freedom for political 'wriggle room' (the word "consider" appears 27 times in 44 recommendations, along with 'investigate, "explore" and "review" for instance), the themes and issues raised by the recommendations are all very worthy of consideration and important to be addressed.
Taken together, these recommendations have the potential to form the framework of a vision to be promoted (something we don't currently have, unless you consider a focus on system deficits a vision). These recommendations allow us to think aspirationally, to consider a future that is bigger than what we currently have, and opens up the opportunity for conversations about system level change in structure and thinking that could create a better learning experience for our young people.
It is encouraging to me that, in relation to an inquiry into learning environments, a substantial amount of discussion is devoted to the virtual world, and the anticipated role of the Network4Learning. I am a strong advocate for the inclusion of the virtual in any discussion about 21st Century learning environments, as already we must acknowledge the significant amount of learning that takes place outside of the school environment, and of that, an increasing amount takes place online.
In the recomendations I am pleased to see mention of community use of school IT facilities, as well as school use of community owned IT facilities (libraries included). This all seems to make sense to me – something I've advocated for some time, and which has been effected here in Christchuch with the South Learning Centre and Riccarton Library for some years now as an example.
The report also addresses some of the digital divide and privacy issues that will inevitably arise as we move in this direction.
It's pleasing to note that the report has the support of the Labour Party and the Greens (in principle at least, with their obligatory extra points noted). Let's hope the government now looks seriously at the recommendations in this report, with an horizon that stretches well beyond simply 'considering' and 'exploring', to actually taking some hard decisions, showing leadership, and inspiring leadership in others.
We need all of our politicians and sector leaders too to take serious note of the recommendation "…that the Government recognise achieving such a change needs government- and sector-wide leadership to develop and promote a vision, and to lead an integrated series of work programmes to implement that vision."