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Is school actually meeting the current and future needs of our learners?

To put it bluntly, the pressure is now on us to collaborate on new designs for learning that will engage both students and teachers!
9 January 2013
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Author: Aaron Akune
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I walk the hallways at breaks and lunchtime and I overhear many students' conversations. '… is so boring', 'I don't see the point in …', 'I don't want to go to …'. I observe students desperately asking their friends for answers to worksheets and textbook questions. Are they interested in learning or motivated by the threat of losing marks? I see tired and stressed faces. Did they stay up late at night engrossed in their learning? Or were they going through the drudgery of homework and cramming for a test?

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CC photo by: carolyntiry

I walk into classrooms and see students quietly gazing out the window, secretly glancing at their phones and mindlessly doodling on paper. Are they distracted or disengaged? I bump into regular 'hall wandering' students while classes are in session. Some tell me they are 'going to the bathroom’; while others say they're 'getting supplies from their locker'. Are they being truthful or do they simply require a break from class where they can get up and move around? I meet with students in my office. Some of them display such lifeless, apathetic expressions. Why are their spirits so defeated? Why are they simply going through the motions of school? Others demonstrate frustration and negativity towards school. Why has school become a source of their frustration? Why are they so 'anti-school'?

Our schools must equip learners with the skills necessary to not only adapt to but also influence this rapidly changing world they are growing up in. We need to move away from a system where subjects are taught in isolation of each of other, where content delivery is the focus, and where the teacher is seen as the expert and is the one who asks most of the questions.

Now don't get me wrong. I know these examples don't describe all students. But it does describe the norm for some of the students whom I work closely with. It's clear that school just isn't meeting the needs of 'these' kids.

Which brings me to a larger question. Is school actually meeting the current and future needs of our learners?

When I look at today's high schools, I still recognize them as the same basic model as the one I went through over 20 years ago. And then I consider the world in which we live in. It's a faster and more automated world, where knowledge is at our fingertips and information can travel across the globe at the push of a button. We are blessed with luxuries all around us. Smartphones, sports cars, online shopping and banking just to name a few. But this rapid progress and advancement have created changes in the workplace and society that demand new skills and competencies. Routine, assembly line type work that requires learning simple repetitive skills and memorizing basic information has become a thing of the past. The application of knowledge, critical thinking and creative problem solving is now more important as the world of work shifts to non-routine tasks.

This places new demands on education. Our schools must equip learners with the skills necessary to not only adapt to but also influence this rapidly changing world they are growing up in. We need to move away from a system where subjects are taught in isolation of each of other, where content delivery is the focus, and where the teacher is seen as the expert and is the one who asks most of the questions.

Rather than asking learners to work towards one ‘right’ answer, we must grow comfortable with there being many answers to students’ questions. And, our practices must support the idea that learning is a process, often one that is messy, non-linear, and will likely include unlearning and relearning.

We need to create a system that encourages students to pursue personally meaningful challenges and initiatives that are relevant to their lives, values students asking big questions to which the teacher doesn't have the answer, provides students some autonomy to follow their own inquiries and enables students to amplify and share their learning through the use of technology. Similar to real life, learning at school should integrate the many traditional disciplines, allowing students to shift naturally and apply knowledge and skills from different disciplines in order to answer their questions. Rather than asking learners to work towards one ‘right’ answer, we must grow comfortable with there being many answers to students’ questions. And, our practices must support the idea that learning is a process, often one that is messy, non-linear, and will likely include unlearning and relearning.

To put it bluntly, the pressure is now on us to collaborate on new designs for learning that will engage both students and teachers!

We need to stop worrying about what others think school should look like and start imagining what it could look like. We mustn't shy away from big steps or our bold vision. Now, more than ever, we need innovation in education!

Very well put! I am in a

Very well put! I am in a fortunate position to work with teachers on a daily basis that recognize the disconnect between students and the current education system.  While the current system works for many students, there are many who often get left behind and need something different to keep their attention. Thankfully there are teachers willing to think outside the box and incorporate unique innovations into their classrooms to meet the needs.  People like you, who bring light to this subject, give us hope that these walls will continue to be broken :)