Back in the mists of time when I was in my undergrad people would ask me what I wanted to do for a job. My response was always to be a university history professor. Usually, that was the end of the conversation. There were instances where the person would press me and ask why. It did not take me long to develop a repertoire of stock answers. One of my favourite was that at university I would be teaching people who wanted to be there. In my mind I had envisioned the perfect Platonic classroom in which students would be always engaged, they would discuss interesting and important topics with a high degree of sophistication, and then after a rousing seminar on Jean Bodin’s role in articulating the origins of French absolutism, we would all head over to a oak paneled club where the conversation would turn to comparing literary tropes found in Boccaccio’s Decameron and the 1001 Nights. Needless to say, I was disabused of this delirium in short order.
What made me think of this was Michael Fullan’s article, “The New Pedagogy: Students and Teachers as Learning Partners.” In his article, Fullen begins by addressing what
he referred to as the push-pull factor of schooling. On one hand, students find schooling increasingly boring. He points to the stat that kindergarten children have a 95% satisfaction rate which by time students hit grade 9 the rate drops to 37%. As disappointing as this trend is, it is not completely surprising. Although there has been considerable efforts made to modernize the school system, the fact is most schools are still primarily little changed from their 19th century origins. The result is that a lot of the natural curiosity of a child is eventually suppressed in the effort to grade the student. In this case, the EQAO bears considerable responsibility as it focuses on the ability of students in grades 3, 6, and 9 to answer test questions with little regard for the vast variety of learning styles of these students. It is difficult to be engaged in learning if all you’re doing is learning facts to repeat every three years.
This is one half of the problem identified by Fullen. The pull factor is that there is also a corresponding decline in teacher satisfaction. The figure ranges from 40-50% satisfaction. These numbers certainly suggest that there are problems with the current school system. There are several reasons for this. One, it is easy to fall into a routine, especially with the busy lives teachers lead. I know there were times it was easier to use past lectures that had worked in the past than sit down and revise them. The system also makes it difficult. It is structured for a 19th century industrial society that only required rudimentary literacy and numeracy skills. Also, it was based on educational theory that emphasized rote learning over what we would now recognize as student-driven or inquiry based learning.
However, Fullan is correct to note that simply embracing innovation, especially in the context of technology, is not a solution either. As seen in the experience with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), what began as a brave new world of delivery higher education as retreated as the limitations of online courses became more apparent. It seems people still prefer to have access to an actual teacher. The prophets of disruption who claimed that technology would replace teachers have come up a little short. This is not to say technology has no role. Quite the contrary, technology can bring a lot of value to a class and can be the basis of rich and deep thinking on the part of students and teachers. The engagement with deep learning goals are referred to as the 6 Cs.
In order to change the educational experience, I agree with Fullan that we need to work with students to design the 21st century school. They are interested in education that has real world impacts and as teachers, we need to be more conscious of how our teaching is relatable. This is not to suggest that the curriculum be watered down, but it means reassessing how things are done. It may mean reshaping the school day, it means ensuring the curriculum is interdisciplinary and is tied to the lived experiences of our students. It also means that teachers must transform their pedagogical practices to reflect the 6 Cs.
I will admit that I think there is value in some of the more traditional pedagogical practices, but there is no question the educational system would benefit from a major transformation. Educators need to be clear as well that as we transform the educational landscape, we are simply trying to entertain our students. Boredom may be an enemy of satisfaction, but whatever innovations we bring, they must be done with the purpose of instilling deep learning goals in our students to make them not just workers, or possessors of rudimentary knowledge, but fully developed people with a love of life long learning and a desire to explore their world in ways that we have not yet considered.