These are difficult times we are living in. I buy a drink for my friend, I, turn around, and my bag has gone. By the time I come to cancel my credit card $3000 has been removed from the account. The thieves were mostly shopping at Warehouse- I hope they got something for the kids.
Petty crime is on the rise. It’s not surprising. Job losses are increasing daily. Mortgagee sales are reaching record proportions. There’s a feeling of desperation in the air.
No more so than for young people. My heart goes out to the school leavers of the year 2008, particularly those who have not quite made it to Level 3. There are no jobs. There are few places on courses. Disillusioned and disengaged from the education system, demotivated by their fruitless search for work, they are playing computer games till 3am, getting up at mid day, wondering what the past 13 years was all about.
These youngsters are not life long learners. They are products of a corrosive system of learning that has failed them. They are representative of the average student who sits in class and dutifully copies down the writing on the board, who finds it hard to remember all the “stuff” to be regurgitated in the next exam, whose main solace is in friendship networks and drinking in the weekends. These young people have few resources of self-management, and little motivation other than hanging out with mates and maybe finding somewhere to buy cheap beer.
As teachers, we cannot take all the blame. These are the children of the biggest generation in history -the baby boomers who have given their sons and daughters unconditional love no matter what they do, who have brought their children up in security and safety, and who have provided for their children’s every material want, from street sharks to neopets to nintendos.
Yet there it is. A generation of feckless children who are now entering a world that is gradually grinding to a halt. And this at a time when the world is desperate for creative minds.
Which is why we must, must, have a new way of learning. Why we must have a new way of teaching. Why we must bring in a new curriculum and start again.
And so I am thinking about about setting goals. My goals for 2009.
We are almost at the end of our first decade of the 21st century. The world is a vastly different place than it was in the Year 2000 in terms of international security, regional power shifts, technological change, climate change and economic strength. The excitement and hope that ushered in the millennium has all but gone in a world now drowning in deficits .
And how has education changed to recognise this new world vew? My answer would be – very little. Bored, disaffected students still sit in rows, through hour periods of lectures, writing up textbook questions and copying notes off the board. Yes we have NCEA, but the potential of NCEA to create a more dynamic, interactive model of teaching and learning has not been realised.
30,000 children still truant every day. 30,000!
It is nice to think that Minister of Education Anne Tolley is going to send them all back to the classroom but surely as teachers we must ask, what is going wrong. What is happening in our classes to drive so many young people away – these same young people who entered secondary school at Year 9 in their shiny new uniform, excited, a little scared, with a hunger for learning.
Which is why I only have one goal this year, and that is to support the introduction of the new curriculum and to ensure that, at least for those teachers I work with this once in a generation opportunity to change the system is not overlooked. Because it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that a school’s old curriculum cannot be tweaked in order to bring about systemic change- it must be thrown out. And we do need systemic change.
We need to think about the hours of teaching, the content of what we teach, the manner in which we engage our young people, the place of art and music in all subjects, the place of Web 2.0 in all subjects, the dominant teaching methodology of our school, the need for reflection, cross curricular, any curricular, the place of core subjects, teacher passion and deep learning.
It would be a tragedy to have finally found a curriculum that shows real understanding of the essence of our profession– only for it to end up being misunderstood.
It is too late for the current generation of school leavers and we may well pay the price socially for our failure to engage so many in their learning- especially at such a time of economic stress. But it is not too late for future generations if we are willing to take a risk and engage with the messiness, the muddiness, of curriculum change. We have a window of opportunity – a unique and timely opportunity to shape a new way of learning in a holistic and systemic manner.
So what will your goals be for 2009? You are but one person in your school and you cannot change the world. But perhaps in some small way you can turn ideas around and begin a process of liberation of even one teacher, by supporting them to be free to be experimental.
Think on – and if you happen to see a gold Visa card lying around amongst Warehouse wrappers, leave me a message.