The Change Agenda for 21st Century Teachers

This is a nice thought-provoking article from Mindshift in which an American educator sets out what he sees as the three long term lessons that teachers most need to unlearn;

Mindshift Article – Will Richardson – 3 Things to Unlearn

These are not easy perspectives for long serving educators to let go of; being in control of the curriculum agenda, seeing schools as being in competition (usually in the belief that competition raises standards) and measuring through conventional methods of assessment. For many, they have formed the bedrock of the profession for a very long time. To cast these aside can feel for many like setting sail on rough seas with no map, but just a compass.

However, some would suggest that even the compass is somewhat vague in its usefulness. When we set out on the high seas of education each day, what’s the purpose? Where are we trying to get to – in the most simple terms, “What is school for?” As this ASCD article highlights, even this objective is the subject of many different views;

ASCD Article – What is the Purpose of Education?

What really struck me when reading this article was that if we even buy in to half of the writer’s suggestions for the key priorities of what education is for, then we have to question a great deal of what goes on in schools, what we spend our time on, how that time is organized and spent and the end goals we hope to achieve.

I would love us to get a debate going here, So, please, educators, parents, students, please send a comment setting out what you believe to be the purpose of education. I would love to hear your thoughts.


4 Responses

  1. Mr Parkinson,
    I read most posts that come through from you.
    This topic has been my passion, and I will share with you what I tell my kids often – Life is NOT fair. If you can cope with that you can cope with anything.
    I dislike hearing “but that’s not fair”.
    Who said that everything is fair?

    Have you ever said “aw its not fair that I have a BMW (I choose to name a brand, as a car is not strong enough to portray the emotion) and my poor maid has to walk to work everyday” or “its not fair that I get to go on holidays and the rickshawwala has to work 365 days a year”.

    Emotionally strong, physically strong, mentally strong and lastly spiritually strong – is what are kids need to be. Whatever we ‘teach’ the end result should be this. And that is the purpose of education.

  2. With all due respect, I would humbly disagree with Sunayana’s comment above as being ‘the’ purpose of education. Let’s start with the overall goal – I would state that this could be: to help develop responsible and good citizens who can contribute to the betterment of society and the world in general.

    Now, what is needed for this? First and foremost, one needs compassion for those less fortunate. Teaching a Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ philosophy does not help us towards this goal. Thus, I believe that one goal for education should be to develop compassion for those less fortunate.

    Now lets move on to ‘responsibility’. We also have a responsibility to help those less fortunate. The children of today will be the leaders of tomorrow, and a ‘law of the jungle’ approach will not help those less fortunate. Instead we need a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ philosophy that should be developed as part of education.

    Next – ‘good’. This refers to values. We should identify two broad sets of values: (1) those universally accepted such as ‘honesty’, ‘hard work’, ‘being environmentally responsible’, ‘respect for those from different backgrounds and/or with different views’, etc. and (2) those that a particular society feels are areas for improvement for the future. For example, for India this second group could include improving certain civic behavior (e.g., littering), social topics such as dowry, caste-based thinking, etc., and other various topics.

    The above points are my view in response to the above comment. I understand the thinking behind the above comment, and would agree that some sens of the reality of life (and associated differences in people) should also be taught – but I would not agree that this should be ‘the’ primary purpose of education.

    With regards to the original question, some initial thoughts from me are that education in the future should also include: (1) building competencies required for future success (2) creating lifelong learners (3) focusing more on depth than breadth – e.g., instead of memorizing lots of dates and facts for a history topic (which anyone can look up the internet), the focus should be on a smaller number of topics and going much deeper into the why/how/etc. for each topic (4) physical fitness (this is often overlooked, and should be a part of K-12 education with measurable annual achievements for each student) and (5) building global awareness since the children of today will be living in a world that is much more globally integrated.

    Best regards,

  3. The ‘three things to unlearn’ are very relevant and resonate with our thinking as art educatiors as we do constantly ponder over the issues of delivery, competition and assessment pertaining to art as such, in fact one wonders if there should be any assessment at all. The important thing is creativity, inspiration and like the author said, cooperation. As in today’s world the children will learn to compete, deliver and be assessed anyway, but what we need to foster are positive and productive practices that make the learning experience rewarding in more ways than just marks or grades. As an example one of the most memorable projects my students relate too and had fun doing was a ‘Madhubani’ wall painting they did in the assemby hall of Vidya Comfort, a school for the under privileged. They can’t forget the whole experience of team work and the joy and pride it imparted to the students of VC while teaching them about the folk art form. The painting was vibrant but the bonding over the whole exercise was etched in everyone’s memory forever.

  4. Children acquire life skills not just from school but from their family and other social interactions too. Children know what’s right or wrong, but often they don’t see the need to practice the high morals we talk about. We need to close this schizophrenic gap because this is what ails Indian society.

    Secondly, I feel the role of formal education is to help students develop ‘critical literacy’. They should be able to think things through on their own, analyze, resolve situations of conflicting ideas by finding their novel and innovative solutions and apply what they learn to their lives.

    Thirdly, we could give our students the tools necessary to help them become independent learners and have confidence in their ability to learn, so that learning doesn’t stop after school or at anytime in life.

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