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Effective Teaching empowering the professional teacher


19 November 2012 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


By Shalini Wickramasuriya

As teachers and as parents, we have felt a growing lack of empowerment as we wish to prepare our children for the future. We wish to ensure that they may have the educational skills and the knowledge base to fulfill their potential, work in the field of their desire, to ensure that they represent a high quality of human capital, and as we wish to prepare them to project our economy as competitively as our regional counterparts.

We currently subscribe to a system which was designed to serve us during the Industrial Revolution, and the template for implementing education has not changed much despite the changes to the economy we function within. Many of us can recall that 15 years ago we did not have access to a mobile phone, the world-wide-web, to energy efficient cars, to solar - the range of developments in this last decade have been remarkable. However our children, teachers and schools still function within a guidance template which is archaic and fundamentally adheres to a model of mass production with little consideration to the requirements or challenges within our growing economy. This thesis has been put forward by a number of critical thinkers within the field of education, such as Ken Robinson, Richard Gerver and Howard Gardener, and their recommendations are profound and worthy consideration.

Often government reforms are akin to a sticking plaster approach to addressing the changes which need to be made. Attempts at change has generated a number of tweaks to policy documents and most recently seek to address specific access related issues, but fails to address the growing concerns of parents and educators.  What is required is a wholesale system transformation to address two crucial factors: are we preparing our youth for the future and equipping them with the knowledge base of critical thinking, creativity and the life skills for suitable employment in a highly competitive global market?

Many countries within Asia have become the world’s manufacturing base and hold the key to much of the world’s future employment patterns. Most recently China has redesigned its educational system, developing a new ‘national curriculum’ created to fan the flames of industrial growth, in order to create employees who are focused and productive and who possess high levels of technical efficiency. The reforms have clarity and focus and have links to and address needs of industry. The East has overtaken our productivity and industrial success, during which time they have looked to diversity and exploring alternative methodologies of schooling. Hong Kong and Singapore are spending vast amounts of money and time developing highly creative and dynamic approaches to future learning.  In countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand we are seeing a growing emphasis of development of children’s behavior, skills and emotional well-being. The early foundations of holistic development are reaping benefits as we see these countries performing considerably better in the PISA international rankings for reading and writing ability among 15 year olds.

Our children need to develop their self-confidence and self-worth, creative and innovative thinking, critical and analytical skills, team work and communication skills to have the chance to reflect the highest quality of human capital and to be competitive in the global market place.

Ahead of waiting for government and policy initiatives which might address these factors, what changes that are necessary to address the demands on preparing our children for  the future?  What changes do we need to initiate while we are still stuck in a system which works on mass production, rote learning, surface learning and is archaic in structure? Ken Robinson features in his seminal work Out of our Minds that ‘Raising academic standards alone will not solve the problems we face; it may compound them. To move forward, we need a fresh understanding of intelligence, of human capacity, and of the nature of creativity. Human intelligence is richer and more dynamic than we have ever been led to believe by formal academic education (2011). A fresh understanding of intelligence and how we assimilate knowledge is featured by Howard Gardener in 5 Minds for the Future and Multiple Intelligences.

There is wide recognition that the challenge is global, and those who invest in making a difference ahead of the transformation such as the Gates Foundation highlight that ‘Education is an essential foundation that we cannot skip or neglect if we hope to provide sustainable, long-term economic and entrepreneurial growth’ (Bill Gates at Government Leaders Forum, Washington 2009) and the Gates foundation stresses that while we wait for the initiative and effort for a system reform and a vision of matching skills development with the workplace, the widely acknowledged notion is that teachers are at the heart of successful learning.

Evidence shows clearly what most people know intuitively: teachers matter more to student learning than anything else inside a school. But they need support to help students succeed, and they deserve recognition and rewards for doing a great job and in the interim ahead of transformation, the support and confidence that they will be empowered to make a difference.

We additionally need to better understand what makes a teacher effective and to rethink the way we recruit, retain, and evaluate teachers in our schools in order to improve student outcomes.

The notion that we as educators can solve the problem of education by placing blame is unproductive and detrimental to success. The blame game seeks to remove responsibility and impairs discourse about reform in public education. Teachers have responsibility within the system and play integral part for any reform effort to be effective. Successful teachers must have high expectations of themselves and their students. It is strongly advocated that teachers should never go a single year without self-directed professional development even if it is reading up on a new pedagogical approach with a group of like-minded colleagues.

The truth is that the opportunity for change already exists in passionate leadership within schools and in committed teachers. We need to acknowledge that we have the power to innovate, to transform our learning approaches and that it is time for the education profession to stand up and prove its professional status.

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