The changes that educators are expected to embrace for 21st century learning may seem impressive, but many of these theories are already what teachers have been practising in class.taught to practise in class
IN many schools throughout the country, there are obvious signs that the huge mechanism of education transformation has been set in motion. In others there is evidence of effort towards that direction or at least claims of those effort.
Teachers are encouraged to share best practices, effective teaching pedagogies are being promoted and there is greater emphasis on continuous professional development than ever before.
Some of the current buzz words include 21st century learning, HOTS (higher order thinking skills), student-centred instruction, collaborative learning, and holistic student development.
So yes, it does seem that we are finally getting our act together – ready to march our horde of students well beyond the gates of the 21st century.
We want to help make students who are not just good in their academic subjects but those who are all-rounded – we want them to develop emotionally, cultivate commendable character traits and good social skills.
We want them to be deeper thinkers, master higher levels of language proficiencies, and to be patriotic.
We want them to take ownership of and be responsible for their own learning. And with all the planned modifications, we seem to be heading in the right direction.
“Wait a minute,” some of you may be saying.” Haven’t we heard this all before? We’ve been in the 21st century for 16 years already.
So are we, or the generations to come going to be stuck with this 21st learning for the next 80 years or so? Anyway, how sustainable are all these changes, how long will they last?”
“Don’t be deceived by the so-called changes that you see”, say other nay-sayers.
“Most of them are just at face-value and put up for show – mainly to please the overseers and the policy-makers. Just give it a few years and they will go the same way. All attempts at transformation go like a faulty tap where water gushes out at first and then trickles to a reluctant dripping. Before you know it we will be back to square one.”
Which is really interesting when you think about it. What exactly lies in square one? Isn’t square one the point where all of us teachers came in?
Wasn’t there a first moment where we all stood at the portals of the teaching experience, fresh and eager, brimming with enthusiasm and armed with all the knowledge we had gained during teacher training?
Even if it was based more on theory than personal experience, we knew the pedagogies. We knew Bloom’s taxonomy by heart.
We were familiar with critical and creative thinking skills, questioning and assessment methods, teaching aids, classroom management student-centred learning.
It was all there in our heads. In fact, some of us had done projects based on all that, written papers, prepared presentations and done research.
So yes, it is true in a way when teachers say that they already knew most of the pedagogical bits. Which then brings up the question: what happened along the way?
What happened to teachers who began their teaching journey eager to practise all that they had learnt in their new job as teachers?
Were they never really convinced in the first place or did vital bits and pieces fall away as the years progressed – as they brushed against the abrasive demands of the system, the tumultuous calls for examination achievements, or the pressure to conform from other senior – but jaded – teachers.
Perhaps it was the realisation that in the end, everything was about documentation and quotas, and of course the exams.
“You’ve done a good job. You are a wonderful teacher, absolutely excellent, one of the best,” those in power tell them. Yet, they promote or award someone else who is nowhere near “wonderful” or “excellent”.
Perhaps, the teachers have seen so many programmes or policies that they begin to be sceptical about changes.
A very valid question in the minds of not only teachers, but other stakeholders like parents or the community is how long will these policies last.
Does it have a shelf-life and can it go on indefinitely? And what exactly sustains it?
Another consideration is whether the changes are being administered the way they should be.
At the highest level of formulation the foundation that these changes are based on are undoubtedly admirable, theoretically sound and modelled from best practices around the world.
But many things happen along the way down. From the board room to the classroom, from division to sub-division, many things drop off.
What eventually reaches the actual teaching and learning setting is sometimes just the husk or a dry core stripped of its essence and strung together by directives and documents.
Not very much attention is usually paid to the important task of convincing those implementing the changes at ground level, of the necessity of these modifications.
Is it naiveté, is it a case of “what I don’t see, doesn’t harm me” or plain disinterest? And that sometimes does keep those who are in decision-making places in education, from seeing what is really going at the ground level.
Those with closer proximity to the school arena – namely the teachers, administrators and local education officers, often refer to their concern about the holistic development of their students.
At times, it seems more an attempt at reassuring themselves that they are on the right track. And yet the force that seems to steer the direction of the whole teaching and learning experience in our schools is the examination system.
“Tell us whether any of these so called transformation methods really work?” ask some teachers. And “by work” what they mean is whether their students will be able to get better grades in their examinations.
Some even feel that time spent on implementing new pedagogies and best practices is wasted. They feel that it is better spent on drilling exercises and sessions on techniques required to answer exam questions.
They are sceptical about the need for students to be able to think at higher levels and in the very same breath, they ask whether there are examination revision books available on critical and creative thinking – with sample answers.
Perhaps we need to take a few steps backwards instead of forward. Perhaps we need to revisit our teaching roots from time to time – those classic and timeless foundations of education that we were so convinced about all those years ago.
We are now being reminded of theories and strategies that we had been first introduced with when we started out.
Maybe in rediscovering what has become buried by other seemingly more important things, we will also be able to realign our focus on what our students really need from education.