Our kids deserve better
SCHOOL OF THOUGHT
DR ALI BLACK
UNIVERSITY OF THE SUNSHINE COAST
NAPLAN. This capitalised acronym evokes myriad reactions and responses. I am not a fan. The attention given to NAPLAN by the media and by politicians distracts us from thinking about the role and purpose of education. Standardised tests distort and devalue what matters. They limit understanding about what education is for. NAPLAN cheapens our children. It diminishes what they know and their diverse ways of knowing. It diminishes our thinking about what really matters in learning and in life.
We seem so afraid of falling behind. But these are scores from very narrow tests. Is there value in knowing answers to predetermined standardised questions? Is there a cost in applying a limited lens? When looking longingly at the educational rankings of our Asian neighbours, should we also consider the leading cause of death in many Asian countries? - youth suicide connected to academic-induced stress.
Does happiness and mental health feature in our country's discussions about education and what we hope and value for our children?
And what of the future? The world that awaits our kids is asking for life-long learners, problem-solvers, lovers of learning, people who are resilient, well, curious and engaged, risk-takers, thinkers, creatives, people with empathy and compassion who understand the importance of peace and sustainability and... When will we get it?
Rapid changes, new challenges, new problems and greater complexities demand a complete shift in the focus of schooling. Yet here we are, Australia, still focused on the delivery of a prescriptive curriculum and the regurgitation of right answers. When will we understand the importance of offering an education where children can engage in open-ended inquiry and problem solving, in learning that asks for advanced and creative thinking?
We need to take some lessons from Finland's education system! Finland's school system is top-ranked among the developed nations. They have achieved this success with a focus that is informed and holistic. They value childhood. They value play and creative thinking. They value time outdoors and in nature. Time is given to these as part of each school day.
The people making decisions about education in Finland are actually educators! How ground-breaking! In Finland, they don't value homework. They don't have mandated standardised tests. They do not engage in comparing or ranking children, schools or states. They value their teachers and respect their knowledge. They make it a priority for a teacher to get to know each child and personalise the curriculum, building on children's innate desire to learn. Teachers in Finland know much more about each child than any test can tell them because their education system is focused on relationships, knowing each child, and creating individualised invitations for learning.
Humour me, take a look at this website https://hundred.org/en and then listen to Senator Birmingham. Where do you see the innovation, vision, and forward thinking?
The focus in Australia needs to shift. We need to prepare kids for life. Learning needs to be relevant to them. We need politicians to recognise the difference between the construction of knowledge and the consumption of knowledge. Information regurgitation is not proof that learning has taken place. Our children are sick of being tested and assessed and measured and compared. So are our teachers.
Inquiry-based learning and creative thinking opportunities actually give children a chance to make a contribution, to solve problems and to amaze us. With this focus on knowledge construction, children are given a chance to engage in personally significant learning where they are motivated, active, engaged, and inspired to be innovative.