How schools can drive change in education
The culture change can start with extracurricular activities like robotics and coding classes, which can be presented to all ages, says Lulu Burger, director of Education at the OnSite Group.
Education has always served a very important role for humans. Even when we lived as hunter-gatherer tribes, there was a focus on helping children learn. Back then they learned through play and interaction, with the guidance of adults.
But the rise of agriculture nixed this, culminating in the industrial period where children were primed to deliver certain results as if they were robots on an assembly line. The only reason why most children received an education during the 1800s was so they could work in a factory. Innovative thought and logical experimentation were not encouraged.
Today, we are still stuck with the ghost of that system, says Lulu Burger, Director of Education at the OnSite Group: "Our kids will go into a different kind of disrupted workplace and they need to be agile to excel there. Our curriculum at the moment is too much of a recipe stuck in the previous century and it will stay this way unless teachers see themselves as partners in this journey of change. To cope with ongoing, exponential change, an agile mindset is needed, one that can not only cope, but be creative and thrive."
Time for a change
"There are various ways that schools are leading this change already, but it will take a while for others to follow. Some schools are opting to introduce 'Integrated Studies', which allows for cross-curricular problem-solving, focusing on the knowledge and skills needed to find real-world solutions. There is also a big drive to bring programming, robotics and computational thinking into the curriculum. This ensures learners understand the digital world that they will go into while learning perseverance, agility in thinking and, most importantly, intentional creativity."
Why is this change happening now? Obviously, it's the way our world is evolving in the 21st century, but that is not the catalyst. The trigger for change is happening through technology. Not an iPad in the classroom, but the ways technology is creating new possibilities in the world. In a future of robotics, smart buildings and fast-moving information, humans need to be agile, clever and able to seize the moments that present themselves. It's a new way of thinking, of creating ideas and executing them.
The empowerment journey starts with teachers. Often, the punching bags for those unhappy with current schooling, teachers are actually the beacons of light for all to follow. They would love to innovate, to present knowledge and skills to their students in new ways. But they are often hindered by the current system, one that focuses on test results and herding pupils from one grade to the next.
Creating tomorrow's adults
Of course, it is important that children do well in testing, but if we are to embrace the future, this cannot be the raison d'etre of education, Burger explains: "It's the reality of the school system, time-tables, subjects in silos and, most of all, the importance of marks in your matric year. Teachers feel that they have to cover everything in their curriculum plus prepare the learners for exams. This all leads to a 'no-time-to-innovate' approach and creates a culture of achieving results rather than all the other more important skills our kids need to thrive in the real world one day. Most teachers would like nothing more than to innovate and be proactive in driving the change they know must happen, but they are not always in schools where this is seen as a priority."
How can the culture be changed? It can start with extracurricular activities such as robotics and coding classes, which can be presented to all ages. In fact, the younger the better. But the real boon comes with giving teachers the tools that give them more flexibility to engage and uplift pupils.
Even simple technology changes, such as reliable e-mail and collaboration platforms that are safe for students to use, can help them immensely in any subject and foster integrated studies. These can be managed inexpensively by third parties while the school focuses on what it does best: create tomorrow's adults.
But to get there, the school's decision-makers need to see the value in this approach and support it, Burger concludes: "The biggest barrier to change would be that the decision-makers are not investing enough in teacher professional development to equip teachers to drive change within their school. Even within the schooling system, innovative change is possible if the teachers feel that they are supported. To ensure that the teachers know exactly where they are driving innovation, a school needs a clear and communicated vision and strategy."
Onsite Education will be showcasing all its products and services at the ISASA Combined Conference in October at the Sandton Convention Centre: https://onsitegroup.co.za/isasa/
Onsite is working with various schools at the moment to facilitate workshops for executive teams to bring about innovative change around student learning and the professional development of their teachers.