Blueprint for learning changes

Clipart from

This morning’s headline on the front page of the local paper read Blueprint for learning Changes which caught my eye immediately. It’s a press release about the first of five reports to come out of the Secondary Futures Project .

The release begins with “Classrooms of the future will see computers replacing books and children logging on from home PCs for interactive lessons with overseas students. ” Oh dear! What year is this – sounds like discussions we were having back in the 1980s! We should already be living in this future (and many are) – not reporting on its possibility here in 2006.

Now I don’t want to sound negative about the Secondary Futures Project itself – it’s been very successful in engaging thousands of people in discussions and making submissions about the future of secondary education, and their website is technically and design-wise quite awesome. But I’m dismayed if this press release is an indicator of the sort of reporting we’re going to see from the results.

I know that it’s always going to be difficult to convey the depth of a report like this in a series of newspaper “soundbites” – but I expected more than “Face-to-face teaching will be complemented, or sometimes even replaced, by online learning, e-learning, television learning and hands-on learning,” Surely this isn’t news to anyone. They key issues will be around how this will be achieved, in particular, how we’re going to address the numerous issues associated with current present social, policy and political mindsets (see my blog entry Tackling Online Learning in Secondary Schools)

One of the issues that will certainly need clarification is that of what is meant by personalised learning. I heard our Education Minister speak at length about his view on this at the recent ULearn conference in Christchurch, but it would seemt from comments in today’s Press report, the shared understanding of this concept needs a lot of work. Compare these two statements from the press release…:

“[The report] champions personalised learning, where teachers and students collaborate to build tailored learning programmes around a student’s interests.

while a representative of the teacher’s union says…

personalised learning [takes] decisions on what should be taught away from society and gave it to teenagers… and questions the wisdom of leaving students alone at home to study, which raised “care issues” and meant young people would miss out on important social interaction.

Quite different assumptions appear to underpin these two opinions – one assumes that teachers will continue to work with students, while the other suggests and abandonment of this approach.

I can recall ‘epiphanies’ like this appearing at various times through my teaching career – the fact is, learners have been doing their learning both in and out of school for as long as I can remember. I watch my own children – they are enthusiastic about the learning opportunities they have at school, they are equally enthusiastic about the learning they do when they attend their swimming lessions after school, or when they are learning how to play some new computer game at home. Seems to me its our ‘system’ thats been a bit slow to realise that it doesn’t have a monopoly on learning.

I guess a part of my has become cynical since my experience with the Correspondence School a few years ago, where it was exactly this sort of vision that drove a group of dedicated educators to develop that school into a world leading provider of online learning experiences for students. Problem was that that it requires vision, leadership, commitment and appropriate levels of funding to achieve this – something my Correspondence School experience has made me wary of, and something that appears in short supply in a political environment that is so risk averse and conservative.

Don’t get me wrong – this is my passion, I’d love to see our schooling system evolve in ways that this press release tells me the report suggests. So, putting my cynacism about newspaper reporting aside, I went onto the web to read the report for myself – to exercise my ability as a 21st century learner to learn at any time, anywhere and from the wealth of resources that I can have delivered right into my home – and have now downloaded the document titled “Students First” to read and consider in its entirity.

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