Teaching factories versus rich learning environments
I’ve recently been watching some of Sir Ken Robinson’s videos. One of my favourite quotes is “teaching is a creative system, not a delivery system.” What does this mean in practice? Well, he makes the point that you can be busy going along educating children, engaged in the activity of teaching, but the children may not actually be learning anything.
This is likely to happen if you’re delivering a standardised system of information in which educational settings are a bit like factories. In this view of education, all children are the same. They have the same interests and needs, the same personalities, the same motivators and the same culture, family and community. They are measured against standardised exams and other set criteria. Certain educational areas are valued more highly than others. Learning that comes through the creative arts is often not recognised or valued.
Ken Robinson says this type of educational system grew out of the industrial revolution in the 1800s. There were no formal schooling programs in place before this time, so it was only natural that education was conceived using the same ideas that were behind the new automated factories. If you supplied certain inputs, and worked on the products in a standardised way as they progressed through the factory, you would achieve the desired output or product every time.
This system works well in the right situation. McDonalds uses it, for example, to serve identical burgers all over the world. However, I’m sure you can see the major flaw with this approach when it comes to educating our children. People aren’t all the same to start with. Albert Einstein once said “everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” How often does this happen to our children? How many children ‘fail to achieve’ in educational systems that do not recognise their uniqueness?
The EYLF and MTOP have stepped outside this mechanistic view of education. These Frameworks emphasise the three things Ken Robinson says are necessary for an effective and flourishing learning environment. They focus on difference and diversity, they encourage the development of curiosity (the engine of achievement) and they foster children’s creativity and imagination. NQS Quality Area One also requires educators to recognise each child’s interests, abilities, knowledge, culture and ideas and base programming decisions on these things.
The test for our primary and secondary schools is whether their curriculums and learning programs continue to recognise and encourage the individual child, or whether they simply focus on teaching. I think we’d all agree with Ken Robinson when he says great teachers mentor, stimulate, provoke and engage with children. We must all remember that education is about learning. If there is no learning going on, there is no education going on either.