The Changing Paradigm of Education: A review of Ken Robinson’s thoughts on schooling
By Seamus O’Keeffe
Changing Education Paradigms is a narrative from Sir Ken Robinson that provides an inspirational insight and overview of the current worldwide education structure, the effects that it is having on our school kids and society, and an invitation to consider what it would take to shift the current industrial concept of schooling to a more sustainable one.
As we proceed through the 21st Century we are constantly being presented with a raft of radical advancements, learning curves and developments in our technological use and capability. This in turn has a similarly radical impact in terms of change to pedagogical practice and education. In our current technological society, normal is a forever expanding concept. As individuals we are constantly distracted in and by our everyday lives and the technology that we wrap around ourselves. Bombarded by text messages, meeting alerts, emails and advertising on a continuous basis, we are in a constant state of distraction and become more and more disinterested in certain things as the years progress.
As adults we tend to have the coping mechanisms in place to deal with this and concentrate on what seems or what we deem as relevant to our lives. According to Ken Robinson when the same or similar disinterest and distraction manifests itself in a child, our society labels them as Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) sufferers.
ADHD is a neurobehavioral or developmental disorder and it mainly impacts school-aged children and can manifest as restlessness, impulsivity, and a lack of focus. This can impair children’s ability to learn. ADHD has been a controversial topic since the 1970’s with politicians, teachers, family and the media all having varying input and opinions on the topic. Sir Ken Robinson provides an interesting take on the topic of ADHD, claiming, “Our children are living in the most intensive stimulating period in the history of the earth. They’re being besieged with information and coerced for attention from every platform: computers, iPhones,advertising hoardings, and hundreds of television channels. And we’re penalizing them now for getting distracted. From what? Boring stuff. At school, for the most part. It seems to me not a coincidence, totally, that the instance of ADHD has risen in parallel with the growth of the standardized testing”. He reflects on the increase in technology and standardised testing, seeing these as factors that mirror the increasing trend in ADHD prevalence.
The current National Curriculum acknowledges the advances of technology and its increasing place in the education system. “In our current technological society, the normal concept of literacy is expanding to include all forms of the media and electronic text. This is in addition to the alphabetic and number systems traditionally taught in schools. Digital text is spreading throughout every aspect of our lives. Students engage with a variety of texts for enjoyment. They listen to, read, view, interpret and evaluate spoken, written and multimodal texts in which the primary purpose is aesthetic, as well as texts designed to inform and persuade. These include various types of media texts including newspapers, film and digital texts, junior and early adolescent novels, poetry, nonfiction and dramatic performances.
Students develop their understanding of how texts, including media texts, are influenced by context, purpose and audience. These abilities vary in different social and cultural contexts according to need and demand’ (Australian National Curriculum, English 2012).
While it is noteworthy the acknowledgement and place technology now has, the overall archaic structure of education remains the same. As a first step this needs to be changed, technology needs to be integrated into the curriculum in the same ways that reading and writing have been integrated. It needs to attain the level of importance that teaching the classics has traditionally had. The current curriculum leads teachers into teaching the curriculum and then adding technology on top of that. To integrate technology and to partner the students, teachers can over time create an environment of divergent thinking within the classroom environment. By creating divergent thinking we develop the skills and abilities to be more able to deal with the problems of our times. As Sir Ken Robinson illustrates, in the past, the accumulated knowledge held in the brain was sufficient. In today’s modern world, it no longer is.
Robinson argues that we need our children and students to make sense of their world, a world very different from the one we experienced. And, if we do want our students to make sense of their world, we need to create opportunities for them to think at higher levels, to think outside the box. He gives the following example of such divergent thinking: Question: “How many uses can you think of for a paper clip?” Answer: “Well, could the paper clip be 200 foot tall and be made of foam rubber?” The range of technology that today’s children have adopted and have adapted to has created a new environment that they actively engage in for social stimulation, as well as an environment that has become second nature for them. To reach these kids and engage with them in a teacher – student role, you must encourage them to be active, reflective, inquiring and investigating in their learning, taking time to explore ideas. We need to provide them with the learning activities that create those opportunities. We need to be constantly learning and developing what is required to better equip our students and ourselves for life and work in the 21st Century.