The trouble with innovation in schools

An feature on TVNZ’s Closeup programme last night captured my attention. It featured a small, decile one primary school near Kaitaia where four year 8 students have just won the opportunity to attend the world problem solving champs in the US, based on what they’ve been doing in their school. The curriculum at Oturu School includes bee-keeping, organic gardening and making products from bee’s wax and honey. As the principal, Fraser Smith comments on the programme:

“We’re allowed to do what we’re doing – it’s called authentic learning, and it’s wrapped up in the NZ Curriculum – hallelujah!”

It’s a wonderful example of the sort of creative approach that the NZ Curriculum does allow us to take in NZ schools and I congratulate Fraser and his students for their initiative. In saying that, however, I am mindful of the courage, passion and determination it takes to ‘step outside the box’ and do this sort of thing. I read recently an article in the Washington Post titled ‘The trouble with innovation in schools” that reminded me of how we need to protect the freedom we have in our NZ Curriculum to create learning experiences for students like this. The article focuses on the irony (in the US system at least) of how innovation gets in the way of the things that are really important, such as numeracy and literacy test scores etc. An extract from that article illustrates my point:

Michelle Rhee, former D.C. schools chancellor and one of the rock-star “innovators” in education, famously told Time magazine in 2008:

“The thing that kills me about education is that it’s so touchy-feely. People say, ’Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning.’ I’m like, ’You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.”

On the other hand, Sir Ken Robinson, professor emeritus at the University of Warwick and author of Out of Our Minds, argues in two widely circulated talks from the TED conference that schools too often end up stifling kids’ creative spirits. “Creativity is as important in education as literacy,” Robinson says, “and we should treat it with the same status.”

3 thoughts on “The trouble with innovation in schools

  1. I think it needs to be ‘and-both’ Derek. Kids do need to know how to read (at the moment anyway). And I agree that creativity is vital. The latest IBM Capitalising on Complexity study, involving conversations with over 1500 CEOs worldwide identified creative leadership as key for the future. This research data supports creativity, but it’s not touchy feely! To convince the ‘blue quadrant’ thinkers we do need to produce facts as well as tell the stories. The NZC still allows innovation, creativity and authenticity to thrive. Great teachers and leaders do this and don’t make excuses. We are not American. We can and will do better.

  2. I completely agree Cheryl – my point really is that the US example is another case of binary thinking, instead of finding that middle ground. What I liked about the Oturu School piece is where the principal and the students talk about how the development of basic literacy and numeracy skills are integrally woven into the overall experience they are a part of. It can be done 🙂

  3. I watched that programme as well and searched for their website. There was none. I thought they were fabulous. What an added dimension there might be if they shared what they were doing with others via some kind of on line presence.

Leave a Reply