How would you change the education system?
By Daniel Piper
On New Year's Day, an article popped into my LinkedIn feed, with the title 'What Education We Need In 2016'. I was of course curious to see what author Eric Sim wanted in his version of an improved education system.
But his title seems to make the assumption that the education system needs changing. Given my interest in this area, I'm keen to understand your feelings on this topic. Do you think education needs a change? And if so, how would you change it?
For my part, I think our education system does a good job for our kids, but I also feel it's a system that was developed for a different working world. The world is changing ever more rapidly, and the challenge for all industries (education included) is to grapple with how things might be different in the future.
So with that in mind, here are my top three areas where the education system might be adapted:
Teacher training and development
We are all aware of the lack of funds that most schools have to invest. Many would love to be able to offer advanced training, but they're struggling just to manage things as they are. Additional expenses just aren't an option. But how do we expect our teachers to stay on top of the latest teaching techniques, review new research (and there's plenty of it) and dare I say it, remain motivated?
To be clear, I don't see development as simply attending a conference (although I'm sure there are some good conferences available), rather, as focusing on actually getting better at being a teacher. That means practice. I don't believe anyone wants to be average at his or her job, but no one is capable of being great without ongoing training and development. Teachers, it seems, don't have the luxury of time or resources to receive the ongoing development they deserve. Training and development mean money, as well as time out of class—would you see this as a good use of teacher time and school/education department funds?
Cut down the paperwork
If we're really going to make a difference in student outcomes, we need to stop our teachers operating with one hand behind their back. I'm talking paperwork – endless pages of reporting nonsense so a bureaucrat can tick a box somewhere. Over the years, the workload of teachers has steadily increased, but it's not just reporting for reporting sake that takes up the time. Consider the switch from a one-off, end of year exam to assignments throughout the year. As some of you will recall, in the old School 'C' days, teachers covered the year's curriculum, and you sat a test at the end of the year – which your teacher didn't mark. These days, as one teacher put it to me recently, "Kid's take assignments throughout the year which count to their final grade. They have to be marked (by the teacher), and then independently checked by other teachers to ensure consistency across the department. Then, students who are falling short are given the opportunity to resubmit, which leads to more marking. The whole process takes hours and hours."
This all adds increased pressure on the time available to teachers to do their basic jobs – i.e. prepare a lesson and teach. Add into this all the other non-teaching activities like coaching sports teams, student detentions, after school tutoring, or running fundraising events, and it's no surprise that large numbers of teachers are leaving the profession, or suffering from stress or depression.
So what do we do about it? How about we recognise that teachers aren't super human. If we deem that all this reporting, and internally assessed assignment work is necessary, then surely we have to accept that more time is required to get it done. If your average teacher has say 25-30 hours a week of class time currently, then perhaps this needs to be reduced to accommodate the extra load put on them.
Before I get started on the additional content I'd like to see within a standard curriculum, let me make it clear that I still believe in the value of the traditional core subjects (math, sciences, music, arts, physical education etc). They are all critical to having a sound grounding from which to progress into any career. But there is, in my opinion, a range of broader skills, which compliment these more traditional subjects. Some of which are already taught in a few New Zealand schools.
If we agree that many of the jobs of the future have yet to be discovered (and the evidence seems pretty overwhelming), then surely our students deserve to be taught skills that allow them to adapt to new situations and take on new challenges. This might include skills like, facing your fears, growing your creativity, or generating new ideas.
Research into the ingredients of success also points to the importance of a growth mindset, grit, well-being, goal setting and planning as key elements that lead to ongoing success in life.
Then there are valuable social skills like, learning to listen, having empathy, building quality relationships or networking. All areas that are highly valued in a wide range of professions, and likely to still be so for whatever new roles the future may hold.
Finally, if the role of schools is to prepare children for the world of work, then surely it makes sense to help those same children discover the type of work that they're most inspired to want to do. The first step to success starts by finding a job that you're excited about. Being passionate about your job only further motivates you to keep improving, leading to greater success, and enjoyment.
The difficulty with including these skills of course, is that once again, we're back to putting more pressure on our teachers. Most teachers as I understand it, are grappling with these same curriculum issues, leading us back to the training issue—when do they get the time to research, and then implement within classes these necessary skills? How can we work with schools and teachers to ensure that the current generation of students receive a broad education that truly prepares them to succeed, regardless of what the future might deliver? That's the space I'm passionate about filling.
So what about you? How would you change the education system?
About the Author
Daniel Piper is the founder of Passion Arena, he is passionate about helping high-school students discover their passions and bring them to life – teaching skills and habits that promote greater happiness, confidence and success. You can connect with Daniel via LinkedIn, or directly on email at firstname.lastname@example.org