If I am honest with myself, while I am aware of the definitions, I am less clear on how I see these things ultimately manifesting themselves in our schools. I have seen literature that discusses the Eight C's (Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Cross-cultural Understanding, Communication, Computing, Career plus Caring for Self and the Environment) and Three R's (Reading, Writing and Numeracy) of 21st Century Learning, and understand that for learning to be Personalized, we need to provide options and choices for students, and supply them opportunities to explore areas of interest and strength embracing tools like technology. But until we are comfortable with what these things will look like in practice, we may struggle in helping move our schools any closer to achieving that goal.
B.C. Minister of Education, George Abbott released earlier this week his Plan for Education Transformation, and after digesting it, and reliving the conversations I have engaged in the past couple of weeks, four issues come forward (though I am sure there are several more)...
- As indicated above, I am unsure what these things will look like, and I do not think I am alone. Many people are aware of the definitions, but are not sure how things will need to be done differently in order for us to move schools effectively into 21st Century Learning. I am confident that much of what our teachers are doing, and have been doing for lengthy periods of time, are personalized and geared toward the 21st Century (peer teaching, progressive assessment strategies, the evolution of Distributed on-line learning, cross-curricular unit planning to name only a few) but it is not clear what the government expects schools to look like. Perhaps this is deliberate, because each context is different. But I have been asked in conversation, "How is this different from 'Student-Centered Learning'?" and, "What about the student who doesn't know yet what his/her areas of strength and interest are, or who is only interested in one thing, which may change as s/he grows?" or, "What will we be giving up in moving toward this system, and how is that considered better?" These are all excellent questions that we are struggling to answer.
- Two of the most important skills from the Eight C's are critical thinking and creativity. Inherent in becoming a creative, critical thinker is a willingness to take risks. One of the greatest obstacles facing students and educators today is the societal pressure to achieve marks. We live in a "data-driven" world, where it seems we need to quantify everything with numbers, including our students' learning. I have had numerous conversations with students over the years, listening to them fret over their marks and stress over pleasing their parents and getting into university. Many post-secondary institutions in B.C. are moving toward "broad-based" admissions policies, schools are moving forward with assessment-for-learning strategies that don't penalize risk-taking, and the Ministry has taken some focus off exam results by abolishing optional Provincial exams. But there still exists a reluctance for students to take chances and look for unique solutions to problems due to a fear of being incorrect, and having that response negatively affect their standing. The fear of "getting it wrong" needs to be alleviated, freeing students to think creatively and take some chances. This is a big shift away from where we are now for parents, students, educators and institutions and needs to be our highest priority.
- Money continues to be an issue. Some educators I have spoken with are hoping that Personalized Learning will result in a reduction of the chasm between the wealthy and the less affluent, but wonder where the money will come from. While money is a factor everywhere, and can not be used as an excuse for not moving forward, much of what 21st Century Learning is supposed to be about requires technology hardware, and comes at a cost. Our school is still struggling with out-of-date hardware and software, and keeping up with the rapidly changing technology world is an almost impossible task. The concern is that without appropriate technology supports in schools, the gulf between the haves and have-nots will increase rather than be reduced, since only the affluent will be able to access those technological advantages.
- Most important in any efforts for change is buy-in from parents, students and teachers. Deep change like what the government is suggesting requires it, but as a colleague pointed out to me, teachers in B.C. are dealing with job action and contract negotiations and aren't feeling particularly appreciated or supported. Telling them to improve and change how they do things may not be well received at this time and will not be successful "without fully engaged and committed" parents and professionals.