Advances in knowledge about how effective learning works should drive educational policy, strategy and institution-building; such advances cannot be guided by views that are etched into current institutional practices that come from a former era. Learning needs to focus on and be seen through the eyes of those wishing to learn. This implies a major conceptual shift in how schools work, what they look like, the role of teachers, who should be regarded as a teacher and what the curriculum should offer. Students should acquire higher-order skills such as learning how to learn, create, discover, innovate, problem-solve and self-assess. This would trigger and activate wider ranges of intelligences. It would foster openness, exploration and adaptability and allow the transfer of knowledge between different contexts as students learnt how to understand the essence of arguments rather than recall out-of-context facts.
Creative learning environments have characteristics including exuding trust; freedom of action; variety - where you can transfer knowledge across contexts and disciplines; a balance between the skills people have; challenge - a context where ideas are bounced back and forth with continual feedback and evaluation; direct relevance to the outside world; and an organizational leadership culture that is open-minded and boundary-crossing.43
Meaningful learning is reflective, constructive and self-regulated. It is more effective to present kids with problems, challenging them to devise their own solutions. By putting the young person at the centre, passion can be reignited, the passion required for citizenship. This is especially so if learning plans and learning agendas in school and outside school are co-created and co-financed with a variety of outside stakeholders.
There are many educationalists thinking afresh, but their views have not reached critical mass. There are many teachers with good ideas and nearly every school has extremely interesting projects, but too often these are the 'naughty stuff on the side'. Teachers say it is simply too hard to work against 'the system'. This system looms everywhere and is difficult to pin down - a rule here, a habit of doing things there. When teachers push innovative approaches, they hit a wall of legislation and resistance from concerned parents. Those things now seen as obstacles often emerged initially for good reason, such as duty of care, safety issues or accountability frame works. But now those same issues are creating constriction, restraint and even an element of infantilization, taking away responsibility from and underestimating the capacity for people to find their own ways to solutions. A climate should be encouraged that 'gives permission' to work around obstacles. The failures we often discuss are more often not to do with the pupils but the way they are taught and how their success is measured.
Education cannot solve the problems of education on its own. After all, school occupies only 5 to 7 hours a day, even though we sometimes behave as if it were 24. People could still be learning in the other 19 hours. Some of the most effective learning outcomes happen outside school. We know many miss this opportunity and do things we prefer they would not. The role of cultural institutions, from botanical gardens and zoos to museums, libraries and galleries, should increase as their style of learning is seen as particularly effective in new learning theory. The same is true for participation in the arts. Evidence shows that astonishing results in overall performance can are achieved with increased participa-tion.44 Young people say their disinterest is triggered by the lack of connection schools make with real life or young enthusiasms.45 This overall refocus could be the circuit breaker in the system that unleashes passion.
To shift the agenda to learning how we learn will be difficult given the weight of history, institutional inertia, union rules and surrounding bureaucracies more used to a controlling mode rather than an enabling mode.
Reinventing teachers means their self-conception should change from being knowledge experts to facilitators and enablers of learning. It means communicating to parents that the way they learnt in the past is not necessarily the way we should learn in the future. It is often parents, with their desire to give their kids the best, who reinforce unhelpful patterns, assuming often that how they learnt was right.
When teachers are brought up in an environment of constraint they provide a role model for pupils of passivity and powerlessness - an unfortunate set of attitudes for young people to endure in their rites of passage - which affects those kids for life. Passion is the key. When passion is tapped in learners and teachers there is a way forward, and then schools can be reconceived as centres of curiosity and imagination and communities of enquiry rather than factories to drill in knowledge.
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