The Principal: On Education
Essentially, education is a three-headed dragon:
Head 1 is named, ‘What we Teach’ and is often called ‘Curriculum’;
Head 2 bears the name, ‘How we Assess’ and is inseparable from its bed mate ‘Qualification’;
Head 3 is named ‘How we Teach’ and stands aloof, but not by choice.
Heads 1 and 2 have dominated discourse for decades because they are readily controlled.
But it is Head 3 which determines quality and improvement.
The purpose of school education has never been solely, even primarily, to equip young people with the specific skills currently required by the workforce. It has been, and should remain, to equip each young person with the means to take responsibility for her/his own life, and, in so doing, to equip each generation with the habits of mind that make for adaptable, diverse, cohesive populations that are economically and socially prosperous. Young people should challenge, rethink and advance what they find as much as serve it. As an elder on the Tiwi Islands put to me: The school is there to deliver a culture of participation. There is no Plan B.
The purpose of Head 1 is to provide a framework of rigour for consideration of all that has gone before, so it can best serve further advancement.
The purpose of Head 2 is to facilitate the coming together of people with interests and skills to serve this advancement, and, importantly, to hinder the evolution of counterproductive social hierarchies born of privilege and power.
If there is one important lesson to learn from this pandemic, it is that Head 3 remains the most important, if oft neglected, head of the dragon, and that:
- Teaching is inherently relational;
- Schools are centres of their communities and thrive on intimacy and belonging;
- Involvement beyond the classroom plays an important part in developing learning relationships;
- The nature of the places we gather influences relationships;
- Technology can continue to play a part in better personalisation of education;
- The goal for young people is the unearthing of passions and the honing of mastery so these become habits of mind and practice.
Changes to curriculum and assessment are required: we need a smaller core national curriculum and an assessment regime that does not dictate how we teach. This was true before the pandemic broke. During these times, our minds have been further accelerated to realise that the assessment/qualification jigsaw would benefit from more variety of pieces, including, for some, shorter course qualifications.
But such discussion should not cloud the ever more apparent truth in these days of connection: our quest remains that of improving the standard of our teachers (and hence learning) and the key ingredients are:
- the capacity to build relationships; and,
- interests and talents to share, and the desire to share them.
The role of the governments and education boards is to deliver such teachers in maximum number and school environments that see them flourish. Curriculum and assessment play a part, but they do not breathe the fire.