The University of Newcastle, Australia

Learning centres for equity

In New South Wales, and Australia more broadly, we are on the precipice of a massive transformation of schooling and the assumptions around the education of children. Traditional education arenas sees students being ‘blank slates’ and the pedagogical role of teachers is to fill the passive students’ minds via traditional classroom instructions of learning facts and skills, receiving all necessary critical information from the teacher or a textbook, a pedagogical practice in which accreditation authorities have deemed are important (Qureshi, 2004; Hawkes, 2014). This pedagogical approach not only disengages students, it does not provide equity of learning for all. Educational paradigm requires a shift to a more constructivist approach, a cultivation of the intellect rather than an accumulation of facts. Where learning centres for equity focus on students taking ownership for their own learning, where they have autonomy and agency, and engage and decision makers in their own learning. Likewise, teachers are required to become facilitators that encourage and support every student’s initiatives.

For too long schools have been places young people go to watch their teachers work.” John Fischetti.

Old school paradigm

The current “old school” paradigm of teaching and learning is based on students sitting passively in rows, completing a required syllabus in the order they are told to do so, and with very little choice. Assessment systems reinforce the status quo, promoting learning for “some”, rather than drive learning for all. This assembly-line approach too often sorts students early on based on societal socio economic gaps or based upon educators failure to adapt to the learning environment to individual learner needs. Currently at least 40% of Australian students are disengaged from their schooling (Gross & Sonnemann, 2017). This disengagement is a failure for the individuals and a tragic loss of human capacity to be relevant in the innovation age where critical thinking, problem solving, adaptive reasoning and collaboration are core skills. In “old school”, leadership is more management than transformation. Moreover, in teacher and leadership education, we are too often preparing our new teachers for the schools we are holding onto rather than for the schools we need.

New school paradigm

“We are holding onto the schools of the past rather than evolving the schools we need.” John Fischetti

In the “new school” paradigm, schools will no longer be places young people go to watch their teachers work. They are learning centres, with student engagement at the forefront and personalised learning focussing the instruction on the needs of the learner. Emerging virtual reality and artificial intelligence systems will require reinvention of content delivery and leapfrog pedagogies to new frontiers of exploring and mastering ideas and knowledge. Students in this new school approach are the centre of the learning as they accomplish the syllabus in ways that work for each of them. Assessment from here will be formative and used to modify instruction to meet the needs of learners in real-time. That is equity in action with learning for all as a goal.

What is required to be successful in the innovative age?

“We need a different kind of teacher for a different kind of school.” John Fischetti

In this dynamic learning environment, a new approach to classroom and school leadership is vital. Leadership for old school approaches was primarily management with a mission statement. In new school approaches, leadership is a complex, dynamic empowerment process. The individuals who drive education forward from here—from the classroom to the school to the boardroom - will need a new set of skills to help them create the learning environments that empower every child for success and embrace the culture and expectations of the community as vital partners in the process.

When Copernicus posited, and Galileo confirmed the Sun as the centre of the solar system and that the Earth revolved around it, many learned people of the time considered this heresy. The notion that the syllabus can be accomplished by adjusting it to the passions and needs of the learners is possibly considered heresy today. To some, the idea that passion and student wellbeing help drive intellectual curiosity and lead to building cognitive capacity seems impossible at worst or unrealistic at best. However, the goal of learning for all is to design schools based upon and built around the needs of learners rather than the syllabus or the needs of adults. We are heading this direction led by great educators in Australia and around the world who have adopted promising school designs. In addition, if we stay on top of the technological advances, smart tools can help us differentiate in powerful ways. By preparing new teachers differently, we can provide a bridge from old school to new school without disruption.

When I talk to parents, they often complain that some students on some days get different assistance from their teachers, which they say is not fair. Actually, it is fair, it just isn’t equal. Equity is about giving each child what they need when they need it. With fairness one of Australia’s core values and as we collectively address the inequities of the past, new school designs may be part of our journey to fairness. All of us deserve a fair go as a child, not a predetermined norm-reference box we are put in. We can do this.

The University of Newcastle provides national and international excellence in teacher leader and school leader preparation, educational praxis and research and lifelong learning.