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100th Anniversary Special | The Future of Education

Days of change Is education today ready for tomorrow? With a growing list of global problems beckoning the world’s attention, we have never needed a more educated society than we do today. Our children need to be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead as we look to the future generations to find solutions to issues that simply aren’t going away by themselves.

Education has taken a bit of a hit during recent years and some consider our current education system to be ineffective and out of date. Schools around the world face a variety of issues, including underachievement, education costs, challenging student behaviour, lack of teacher support, salary cuts, teacher shortages and student drop-outs, and this is arguably just the tip of the iceberg. With some countries throwing colossal amounts of money into education, only to be faced with continued declining performance, you could also argue that there are concerns about governments’ efforts, and actual ability, to tackle the string of problems educators around the world face. As with many global issues, the state of our society sits at the heart of the matter. Around the world teachers and policy makers are grappling with the problem of raising student achievement when socio-economic status has such a powerful impact on learning. Equipping schools to fight poverty by making them the centre of their communities is a very real way of addressing the achievement gap between rich and poor students PPTA president Angela Roberts says. “The shocking rate of child poverty in New Zealand, with 270,000 children living in families on less than 60 percent of the median household income, is leading to loud demands for change,” she says. Statistics New Zealand released its Consumer Price Index inflation statistics earlier this year and revealed that the cost of tertiary education rose four times as fast as the CPI for other goods and services.

Tertiary Education Union national president, Lesley Francey says the growing cost of tertiary education risks excluding students from the opportunity to learn. “Students need to borrow more and take on more debt to learn, and for some that is simply not viable.” It is not just tertiary education where the cost is becoming more prohibitive – early children education (2.5 percent), primary and secondary (4.7 percent) and other education (4.9 percent) are all also rising in cost much faster than CPI. “In every instance this is because the government is choosing to treat public education as a cost it needs to pay rather than an investment in New Zealanders,” Francey says. According to the Manukau Institute of Technology, at least one in every eight of our young people is not involved in education, employment or training. Not bad by global standards, but certainly worthy of a ‘can do better’ on the report card. The learning environment we’re familiar with has always consisted of textbooks, teachers and rows of desks. Some could argue that children are read to, talked at and have to sit down for hours on end in the traditional classroom setting. When we’re dealing with children who are born with curiosity and are more productive when kept active and engaged, does the education model that we’ve been relying on for years need to be reinvented to meet the needs of today’s children? An article posted on the US Department of Education website in 2010 titled What is the Biggest Challenge in Education Today, prompted some interesting debate.

By Davina Richards

One responder, Dina Ruth, wrote that “The biggest problem today in education is turning out students that are well balanced – mentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically and financially. “The curriculum today at schools deals more with academic studies and information than it does with being able to attain the success that everyone aspires. It takes a ‘success minded’ person to be successful. “We see many people who are successful that didn’t get a ‘good education’ and many people that did, that are not successful. Why is that? Because success is determined by character and not only by knowledge.”

The game changer Traditional learning is what we’ve always known, it’s what we’ve always done and it’s never been seriously changed until technology came along and flipped the classroom – for better and for worse – on its head. Knowledge and information can be obtained at the click of a button and can sharpen our ability to learn and grow; it’s effective, social, interactive, accessible anywhere, any time and can be used individually or in groups, and we’ve seen the positive impact it’s made in a relatively short time.

‘Be the Change’ was the message received from a youth hui held recently to unpack the topic of bullying. To assist schools in talking with their young people around emotional resilience and bullying, Youthline and Blue Light are putting together an ‘Emotional First Aid Kit’ providing useful information and workshops to support teachers.

Although it’s not front page news that technology is improving the way we learn, can we imagine a learning environment in the future without classrooms and will we even need schools or teachers at all? Sugata Mitra is a professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, England, and winner of the TED 2013 prize. In his TED talk called Build a school in the cloud he spoke about his ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiments where he installed a computer with an internet connection, displaying only in English, into a wall of a slum in India and left it there. When he came back a few months later he was astounded to discover that the children in the community had self-taught themselves how to use it and had even taught others too. They achieved a level of mastery simply through the power of curiosity and applied learning. Mitra’s research shows that even without a teacher, instructions, prior knowledge or experience, technology stimulates social activity, interaction and encourages learning.

To receive a copy of this, email chloe@youthline.co.nz

www.principalstoday.co.nz   Term 4, 2013 | 9

Principals Today #100  

Issue 100 of Principals Today magazine

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