I recently read an article written by Caitlin Moran titled ‘Why I should be Education Secretary’ which addresses the perceived failings in our education system and her plan to tackle them. As a teacher, educator and life-long learner I wanted to compose a reply that clearly highlights why we as teachers worry about the perception we have outside of our sector if this is what is being delivered to them through their chosen vehicle of news, (The Times has over 5 million readers both in print and online).
The writer postulates that the plan to tackle under-performance and apathy within the education is based around 2 facts;
(1) the 21st-century job market requires basically nothing of what is taught in 21st-century schools, and
(2) everyone has a smartphone.
Now they are correct in stating that the jobs of the future will require ‘flexibility and self-motivation’ but stating that the composition of the education system will prevent this is wholly unfounded and echoes the age old rhetoric that is peddled by those who desperately but blindly seek to mirror our own education system with that of, say Finland or China (top of the PISA tables does not necessarily mean top learners).
There is a clear focus at the moment on The Language of Learning, and the subsequent skills that are born out of them. No matter what the subject, the topic, the lesson, the teacher is always thematically using the skills of say, resourcefulness to enable pupils to close that learning loop so they can become better individuals. They are there to create a love of learning. Does it always work? No. Does everything in adult life go according to your plans? Most definitely No. No teacher is there to just ‘get through the curriculum’ and focus on the empirical outcomes. Learning is experiential which is why most school leaders try to create curriculum timetables that allow each pupil to succeed in both cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Go to any school and throughout the day a pupil is called upon to evaluate their learning in a multitude of ways, and to then synthesise this into useable and applicable chunks personal to their own abilities. This is why we teach. This is why they want to learn.
I did not become a teacher because I wanted my pupils to get a job.
I think about Simon Sineck’s ‘Start With Why’ structure; Why do we teach? Because our pupils are at the centre of all we strive to do, and because learning is at the root of a successful society. The advent of more cross-curricular learning in KS2 and 3 and the implementation of new assessment structures across all subjects has led to pupils no longer being taught how to pass an exam, they are now becoming reflective and positively interpreting their own learning and how they can use it again.
Yes, if they finish their maths they will receive more maths, but at a more in-depth level so they can test and challenge themselves in a safe but not risk-averse environment. This prepares them for their future and fosters that intrinsic motivation we want them to have. If we focus on that extrinsic reward of a job, then why would they ever want to push themselves further?
Project based learning has many positives, many facets that will develop a learner to understand the importance of skills such as time management, organisation, resourcefulness, but I am unaware of any company who will readily allow employees to, having finished a project early, to then just leave on a holiday, I am almost certain they would be rewarded and then…..given more work?
And finally the smart phone.
Learning is about the journey, it is about building and harnessing the neuroplasticity of your brain and thickening the synaptic density over time. The density increases as we learn more, but plateaus out over time once we reach maturity when the opportunity to learn new things stops. Distance is its own reward, and as Dr R Winston brilliantly states in this video, building up these neural pathways is challenging but rewarding. If we advocate the use of this ‘instant knowledge’ in our education system we end up with pupils who are not proactive, dare I say it, not very flexible and self-motivated?