Are education standards really slipping?? What can schools do, post pandemic?

The recently released Productivity Commission review of school standards in Australia looks at how well the national policy initiatives by the Australian, state, and territorial authorities have met the goals and outcomes defined in the Agreement. The review also makes recommendations to help inform the design of the next school reform agreement. Unfortunately, the review found that the country falls significantly behind when it comes to ensuring all students receive a high-quality education.

If you were to build a new school or refurbish a current one, what would be the driving principles for your design process? What would the future school look like?

The outbreak of COVID-19 not only interrupted the traditional way schools delivered learning, but it also stopped the work of every person on Earth. The long term effects of COVID-19 on student’s education and how well schools function is unknown and will be for a few more years. Some educators understandably just want to go back to their pre-COVID normal school lives.

Some forward thinking educators see this as a time to take a step back and consider important questions we’ve been avoiding. However, I believe it is more important that we seize this opportunity; that way, we can prevent ourselves from sliding back into old patterns, habits and structures. Instead of waiting around, now is the time to start thinking about how we can transform our schooling systems to be future-fit.

We need to look at the new models that have led to more effective education delivery. What can we learn from the schools who adopted these new models? What does the future hold for education and the nature of schooling, and what can we do to make sure it is better for the next generation? If we are preparing our students for an ever-changing future, in which their ability to adapt, think creatively and solve problems will be essential to their future selves, what does the future school need to be, to help prepare them for their futures.

Our first step is learning from the impact of the pandemic on teaching and learning. We must understand how it has changed the way students learn, socialise and think about themselves and their futures. Policy makers and curriculum designers also need to take into account the changes in the labour market and the types of jobs that will be available to our students when they finish their schooling. We need to consider the pedagogy, the curriculum, the building design, and how we can use technology to enhance learning. Finally, we need to think about how we can create a school culture that supports and challenges students to be their best selves.

So, what have we learnt?

  1. The significant explosion of technology in the learning arena as well as the whole scale upskilling of teachers in this domain was certainly unprecedented. We learnt that when it comes to digital delivery, one size does not fit all and that personalisation is key. We must cater to the needs of different learners in different ways and at different times.
  2. The reminder that schools are social institutions and the well being of its community members should be a priority was also an important lesson. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on some of the issues that have always existed such as mental health, and we must now address these in a more holistic way. We need to provide support for our students and staff, not just in terms of their academic achievements, but also in terms of their social and emotional wellbeing. The way we deliver care, support and connection virtually needs to be planned for and resourced. The social and emotional needs of our students cannot be neglected. We also learnt that when it comes to effective teaching and learning, engagement is essential. We need to find ways to make learning active, relevant and engaging for all our students.
  3. Student entrepreneurialism and the rise of the student voice and agency over their learning. This has led to schools being more environmentally focused with climate change, and future career options guiding the school design process. When you consider the state of the world and how we must interact with it, it’s all about relationships. Entrepreneurialism is all about establishing connections between people.

So, it makes sense that future-focused schools would be designed with this in mind. So what is holding us back?

There are a number of factors that are holding us back from truly transformational change, however the biggest factor is the lack of school and systems leadership. In order for the future school to become a reality, it needs strong and visionary leaders who are unafraid to challenge the status quo. We need leaders who see possibility instead of problems, who are excited about change and who have the courage to take risks.

The future school will be one that is student-centred, community-oriented and focused on global citizenship. It will be a place where creativity, innovation and critical thinking are nurtured and celebrated. It will be a place where relationships matter and everyone is valued. Does the current educational environment allow this to flourish?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. The current educational environment is one that is geared towards standardisation, conformity and compliance. It does not allow for the type of creativity, innovation and critical thinking that we need to see in order to truly transform education. In order to create the future school, we need to challenge the way we currently think about education.

Moving forward?

We have learnt a great deal about the future of education from the points raised in this article. We know that in order for schools to be truly transformative, we need visionary leaders who are unafraid to challenge the status quo. We need leaders who see possibility instead of problems and who are excited about change. The future school will be student-centred, community-oriented and focused on global citizenship. It will be a place where creativity, innovation and critical thinking are nurtured and celebrated, where relationships matter and everyone is valued. In order to create this type of school environment, we must first challenge the way we currently think about education.

Author: Dr Jake Madden

Jake Madden (Dip Teach; B.Ed; Grad Dip: Leadership; M. Ed: Leadership; EdD; FACEL; MACE) Dr. Jake Madden is currently the Principal, St Edward’s Primary School, Tamworth. He has enjoyed a successful teaching and principal leadership career over the last thirty years building teacher capacity through the development of learning in the contemporary world, the promotion of flexible learning spaces to meet the needs of the 21st century learner and curriculum for global mindedness. Jake is a leader in the notion of teacher-as-researcher and is widely published in this area, authoring and co-authoring books and a number of journal articles showcasing his experiences and research into leading educational change.

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