There is a lot of talk about transforming education or transforming schools these days. Many of the ideas or initiatives linked with this though leave me wondering whether we really understand the challenge we face to transform education in New Zealand. Many of the initiatives I have discussed with others lately are based around STEM and/or digital technologies, so that will be the slant of this post. All of these initiatives are truly innovative and are having great outcomes for students and teachers, but I wonder is it enough and are they focused on the right things?
In our experience here forming Hobsonville Point Secondary School, the hardest thing about change is the discomfort that occurs. This was also backed up in EdJourney where Grant Lichtman says that change is not hard, change is uncomfortable. To me, none of the innovations and initiatives trying to bring about change are really addressing this discomfort well.
The most well known initiative for change in education is The Mind Lab who initially started doing great workshops for students and school holiday programmes where students could learn robotics, digital animation, coding etc. OMG Tech then came along, working with 40 students for a day workshop on 3D Printing, Robotics, Chemistry and Gaming. Gather and Future in Tech operate differently by coming into your school to run the workshops.
All of these student initiatives are great for the students who get to access them. There are 2 issues here though. 1) Very few students are getting access to these, mainly through distance, numbers available or financial cost 2) Concerns about what happens afterwards – is this like showing Charlie Bucket around Wonka’s factory to just send him back to cabbage soup again?
Financial cost should not be a barrier to coding, electronics and robotics happening in schools. There are plenty of free online resources such as Scratch and Codecademy plus cheap electronics and robotics through arduino and littleBits. So, the main barrier then is teachers.
Once again, in steps the Mind Lab with their Postgraduate programme. This programme experienced such rapid demand, that in 2015 the course has spread from Auckland to now be offered in Wellington and Gisborne with more locations planned over the next 18 months. This makes me think of the widely shared pencil metaphor for tech integration:
We now have the ‘Leaders’ who had learned these STEM skills anyway and implemented them in class already, being joined by the ‘Sharp Ones’ who are picking up skills through courses from Gather and the Mind Lab. This is still a huge minority of teachers across New Zealand though (there are around 103,000 teachers registered with The New Zealand Teachers Council). To really see these ideas become mainstream across New Zealand Schools we need to access the majority and assist them with learning new skills and with addressing the discomfort that accompanies this learning.
The teachers that have gained skills through either their own learning or courses such as the ones above have a role to play here. They cannot do it alone though. They need support from both:
- school leaders to say yes, we are making this a priority to update our school philosophies, and
- people working in STEM industries who want students to leave school with these skills
Rather than sending 1 or 2 staff members off to PD, school leaders should look at sending whole staff off to do courses together. This link shows a day where HPSS staff spent a day getting out of our comfort zones with Guerrilla Geography and Design Thinking at the National Library and a Robotics challenge at the Mind Lab (our next HPSS Teacher Only Day is for all staff to attend the Carol Dweck Mindset day together in Auckland in March).
If those working in industry really want students to leave school with the skills and dispositions they are searching for, then they need to approach schools offering help with this. I know that many in this industry are there as a business, not an educational institution. Running workshops to give teachers skills and get used to that uncomfortable learning feeling will give returns for you in the long run as more schools then give priority to these skills. This of course, will see more students leaving school with experience and skills that will add value to the industries.
It is only through a concentrated effort from both schools and industry that we can truly achieve a transformation of NZ education. This needs to focus on both the skills AND teacher ability to deal with discomfort. Whether this is in-house or off-site, we need to start working together and in a smarter way to address the critical mass of staff rather than just the early adopters.