What is the True Face of Contemporary Education

June 16, 2023 / 5 mins min. read

In the modern era, education is brimming with statements of revolutionary transformation and fostering a new generation of self-directed learners. Yet, a deeper dive beneath some of the glossy façades of school brochures often exposes a contrasting narrative: a gap between lofty rhetoric and the reality within our schools.

Today, many schools pose as champions of learner autonomy, pledging an educational paradigm shift that promises students agency and controls over their educational journey. As John Taylor Gatto, the eminent education critic and author of “Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling,” often underscored, the traditional schooling system frequently falls short of these ambitions, reverting to rote learning and rigid educational models that restrict the very freedom they vowed to foster. As Louka Parry once insightfully told me about education’s ability to pivot, it’s “like a magnetic force, often repelling change.”

This paradox isn’t a matter of deliberate deception, but more a symptom of deeper systemic issues. Among these issues is teacher training. A meaningful shift in teaching styles requires educators to be suitably equipped for such a transformation. However, as education policy and practice expert, Linda Darling-Hammond has noted, traditional teacher training often lacks the requisite depth to thoroughly prepare educators to embrace and implement these progressive, learner-driven methodologies.


The conflict between old and new models is nothing new


Regulatory bodies, too, often contribute to this chasm with a disproportionate focus on test scores as the gauge of a school’s success. This heavy dependence on quantitative measures bypasses the transformative learning journeys that students undertake. Our past Lead Educators at THINK Global School, Jarret Voytilla and Chung Man Chan, along with their teams, have recently developed the PROP (Process Portfolio) in response to this shortfall, offering a more comprehensive representation of student achievement and development.

Existing education inspection systems also pose a challenge. They frequently fail to appreciate the benefits and transformative potential of Project-Based Learning (PBL) or Universal Design for Learning (UDL). These progressive methodologies embrace failure and iteration, facets that traditional inspection systems may misconstrue as disorganization rather than integral aspects of these learning approaches. It takes a truly brave educator to showcase this pedagogy under the scrutinizing gaze of an inspection team.

As we forge ahead in our educational endeavours, it’s crucial that we frankly acknowledge what our schools genuinely are, and, importantly, what they are not. This open dialogue will enable a genuine transformation, assisting our transition from traditional to progressive education with sincerity, authenticity, and a clear vision for the future. Parents and stakeholders will understandably escalate their frustration at being sold one notion of schooling, only to receive another.


A note on AI –

Reflecting on my past articles, such as when I discussed the emergence of artificial intelligence in education, it’s clear that honesty in education is not a new theme for me. The reception of AI, as anticipated yet stunning for many educators, echoes the underlying theme of this article – that we, as an educational community, need to face the realities within our system. It’s not merely about embracing the future, but about doing so with integrity and realism.

Otherwise, we risk finding ourselves perpetually in a state of shock and resistance when faced with the inevitable changes, much like the struggle some schools continue to face with integrating new technologies like mobile phones or even AI-driven tools like Chatbots, and ChatGPT. Education’s future lies in our hands, and we owe it to our learners, to be honest about where we stand.


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