The future of schooling – an expectations game?

Article in The Australian, 6 June 2011; IBM Shaping Our Future

It is an exciting to contemplate the future of schooling in Australia because in so doing we are reflecting on both the future of our children and our nation.

Technology as always, has delivered dramatic change to our society and the way we engage with each other. If someone were frozen in time just 20 years ago and brought back today, I am sure they would be so amazed yet confused at what they observed.

They would see people walking around twiddling their thumbs into the palms of their hands, texting their buddies. It is also possible to envisage them staring in wonder as people walk around, seeming completely comfortable about talking away at some apparent voices in their head. They’d recognise computers yet be amazed at just how many people are actually using them now because they have to.

As we look back 20 years and reflect in sheer disbelief and amazement, it is exciting, yet ominous, to wonder about what schooling might look like in the future.

It is tempting to wonder whether or not we can learn entire languages just by downloading the information into our heads just as easily as we download an iPhone application. Will there even be such a thing as schools where children turn up and sit before an all-knowing teacher who dishes out knowledge?

These are things we cannot be certain about. There are a few things however, that I am quite certain about.
I am certain about the demand for transparency and accountability of our learning institutions.

There are opportunities for us as educators, as we contemplate the future of schooling together. If we can embrace positively this demand for transparency and accountability, we can restore a sense of honour to our profession that should have always existed.

In part this will mean coming to grips with the enduring presence of transparency and accountability mechanisms such as NAPLAN diagnostic tests and MySchool websites.

The honourable approach is to embrace such mechanisms as opportunities for feedback and development that can inform us on our progress and future directions. Of course, governments and politicians must assist here by resisting the ongoing temptation to over-read such mechanisms and afford them more significance than necessary.

This has been a challenge in the past and is likely to be a challenge in the future. I suspect there will also be a challenge to schools to ensure that education remains the key to a positive future for all children.

As any teacher knows it is exceptionally hard work to offer a school experience that enables students to transcend beyond disadvantage, or a challenging social context. It is becoming easier to understand though, that when we have quality leadership in schools, quality teachers, and quality relationships with communities, we get positive student results.

The cultural difference of a student, or the extent of social disadvantage of a particular child, is thankfully diminishing as an excuse for delivering poor-quality education outcomes.

Whilst we have some way to go, I am optimistic that there really will be no place for any teacher with low expectations to hide in any education jurisdiction in any part of Australia.

If we want our schools of the future to have intellectual integrity then this must absolutely be the case. As it is for schools of today, schools of the future will need to understand just three things to be effective. High expectations, high expectations, and high expectations.

It will not hurt either, to love children, and to love the profession.

Despite the exciting and unimaginable advances that will be made in our shared future, it will always be the case, that there will be learners and teachers, existing in a special relationship. While we may be great at interacting with computers and new technologies, we will always have to be exceptional in our relationships as exceptional human beings.

In the future I’m sure the relationship between the learner and the teacher will be just as special and magical as it is today, and always has been. To get some insight into just how powerful and magical this relationship is, it is sobering to understand that even the oldest people alive in our country are most likely to remember a teacher they once had at school.

They will remember whether or not that teacher made them feel great about who they were as a child, or made them feel pretty rotten. This is the power and magic of being in a teacher student relationship that will always exist and should never be underestimated.

Many of us might remember that one teacher who said “Hey, this is really hard … But I reckon you can do this. Others will remember that teacher who said something like “You won’t amount to much!”

The power in the teacher student relationship is such that it is very possible, in fact even usual, that the teacher can send a message to their students, without even knowing they are sending one. Conjointly it is possible that students can receive a message without even knowing they are receiving one. The message can say something positive, or something negative.

This is why schools and teacher student relationships today and into the future must be resolutely positive. The learning environment and the teacher student relationship must be relentless around a message that says consistently to learners: “Hey, I believe in you!”

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