Like many, my career in education has consisted solely of working in schools within the one state system. I did go to a private secondary school way back in the eighties so I do have some dated preconceptions about how that system works. But it was only when I started a blog and started reading and connecting more widely beyond the confines of that system, did I gain any other perspective about what was going on in other parts of the world in education. Even now with my Twitter followings, my crammed Google Reader, I am still limited or semi-blinded to much of what happens in schools or learning in much of the world today. Anyone who thinks that they have a global perspective just because they use social media is deluded - but social media does allow people to spread word about their local or national perspective very easily beyond the boundaries of that system.
Last week, I went to a DECD (formerly DECS) conference on Innovative Learning Environments with my principal and a team from my school. We were invited to share our story as one of the new Super Schools constructed by the South Australian government and how we had gone about rethinking how we did the business of schooling. And once again during the course of the day (because I've heard this line of thought before) a person from the upper echelons of our department stated that Australia (and by association, South Australia) was doing pretty well by world standards in the education stakes. Apparently, our students stack up pretty well considering that Australia takes in sizeable numbers of refugees and caters for a culturally diverse student population. Now I'm willing to believe this because on each occasion that I have heard this observation, I have heard justification for our results and structures that make sense without me actually going and doing the research for myself. But I wonder why it is that the media don't see this perspective, and are quick and ready to trumpet "slipping of standards", "dumbing down of expectations" and "falling behind the rest of the world."
I might think that NAPLAN and MySchool are very narrow and dangerously restrictive tools to view the success of our schools, but I also think that education is still focussed on working towards the necessary things students will require for personal success in our society. I don't fear a massive slashing of education budgets (yet) and even if the new Australian Curriculum has the lingering odour of political interference, it is not the vehicle for big business to turn education into a commodity. Perhaps I'm being very naive.
Perhaps the biggest strength of being a mainly State funded system means that we don't have the situation that Will Richardson is spotlighting in his much pointed to recent post. What he describes is very scary. And I'd hope that Australia would not be so foolish as to follow the American lead downwards here - but we are a culture that likes to ape the USA as much as possible. Maybe our saving grace is that the big corporations that are eying off the $$$$ available in the huge student population and numerous K-12 systems will see Australia as a market not worth worrying about, and we don't feel the pressure that Will describes in depressing detail.
If you scroll down to the comments on Will's post, someone challenges him to state what he thinks today's classrooms should look like and he responds:
What's the vision? Classrooms built on inquiry, where kids ask and answer their own questions, where teachers act as co-learners in the process because with all that we now have access to, we all better be learners. Schools where we truly value a student's ability to connect with other learners, to create beautiful works of art and inspiration, to develop a passion to keep learning, not just learn what the system pushes in their direction.
Now again, my naivety may be showing through but this statement does describe my last two schools pretty well in terms of a similar vision to be aspiring to. It also fits with the stories of the other schools gathered there at this conference. So, DECD is on the right track here by giving these schools a platform for change, by seeking to see how their innovation can scale out across the organisation. My fear is that given our state system's recent reputation as being a risk averse organisation (an observation made on numerous occasions by many people on the day) is that many schools will not look to create and follow their own vision, and continue to wait on the directions from Flinders Street and their district offices. That would be a real shame - and signal to corporate interests that K-12 education is waiting to be "saved".