My wife often looks at me strangely when I am brushing my teeth. She thinks that talking to my toothbrush or the bathroom mirror is not a “normal” thing to do. I really do not understand why she would think so. I have done it since I read Dale Carnegie’s excellent “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and W.S. Churchill’s biography. Read it yourself, if you have not already done so, you might find it as illuminating as I did, (but then, I was a callow youth of 13) and you will find the explanation of why I talk to my toothbrush.
Blogging would be the same, I think. It is more-or-less, a conversation with myself, in the third person usually, but often in the collective. Maybe I can make the love of my life a little more secure about my overall mental health by blogging, and not talking to my toothbrush. Though, I will miss it, we have had some really good conversations, and it has never once talked back to me! The last discussion we had was about what I thought education was, what it might be, what it was doing or not doing, and why.
One of the goals of our education system is to make young people “work ready”. At one school orientation evening I was attending as a parent, the Deputy-Principal of the school stated, “If your youngest child is starting school this year, then there is an 85% chance that he or she will be employed in an industry that does not exist yet.” (As 85% of statistics are made up anyway, I didn’t take him seriously, I was right not to, but he should have said, “unemployed” and dropped the “yet”.) We do not know what business or industry will look like in just five years, let alone fifteen. How can we make students “work ready” when we cannot tell what “work” a student will be “ready” for?
Another goal is that we are informing “future citizens”. In a time when national boundaries are weakening, when money is borderless and without allegiance, when people determine citizenship as a business decision, what do we mean by “citizen”? Citizen of what, or where? Is cultural identity still a major factor in our collective consciousness? Was it ever? It seems the things that make us uniquely Australian are less important than they were, even though we seem to be shouting them out. We are so busy borrowing from other nations it is arguable that we cannot clearly identify what is truly ours. So what do we determine as “citizenship”?
Quite clearly, these twin goals are not being well met, and we do not understand why. Why has a system that has served us so well in the past become so moribund? I suggest there is no single answer, that here has been a range of different events and decisions made that have had a negative impact on education and most of them are, seemingly, completely unrelated to education. Just take one change, technology – the most obvious change.
Technology has made a huge impact across all industry, all business, all government, everything. The education community, unfortunately, has been unable to adequately deal with it, collectively. Why? The responses to technology are revealing. Schools in Queensland have a highly restricted and highly filtered access to the Internet, for example. In South Australia, public schools are moving from a filtered system to an unfiltered one, leaving schools to determine what is acceptable and what is not. The private schools can please themselves, but their obsession with secrecy does not permit access to anything they do. They loudly brag about their successes, few, but cover up their failures, an unknown number, but I suspect more than a few.
We have to accept that technology is being developed for purposes that have nothing to do with education. Designers do not consider education at all when designing. Manufacturers and retailers have no thought about education other than how to market to it. I suspect that this is a major stumbling block to successfully using technology in schools, there is no clear purpose to it in education. Students will be consumers and users of technology for the rest of their lives, but how can we successfully use that understanding in a class? Administration of education is the same as any administration and adapted to the technology quickly, but extending that to the classroom is a far more difficult challenge.
When television was first introduced it was touted as a wonderful new education tool. People immediately saw advantages, but how quickly was television turned over to the mass entertainment industry? Even with the development of video, things did not change that much for education. Wildlife specials, films and newsreels became available at more convenient times, but we have not applied video beyond that. How many teachers have used video to babysit their class and not teach? Is that an appropriate use of technology?
This position is analogous with the generals fighting on the Western Front 1914-18. To fight the war, break the dreadful stalemate, the generals had to have the tools and then learn to use them and then they were able to fight it. It took three years and eleven months and cost millions of lives to learn; but the war ended five months and one week exactly from when Major General Sir John Monash put his learning into planning and successfully execute actions at Le Hamel and a month later at Amiens. (August 8th, the blackest day ever for the German Army, according to General von Ludendorf.) We have had the tools, computers, in schools now for over twenty years and we are still struggling to come to grips with them. Why? What are we missing? Whatever it is, we seem to be taking too long to properly learn what it is we need to do.