Winds of Change – Time for Skills not Points

It is only mid September and already there is significant talk of educational change in the media and specifically in the Irish Times in recent weeks. Three issues that have been to the fore are the need to reform the CAO system, the need for alternative assessment modalities at Junior and Leaving Certificateand the need to improve how we teach Mathematics and Science:

clip_image001All this change is taking place against the backdrop of a changing world where traditional forms of education are seen as not meeting the needs of citizens in a 21st century society. A recent book, The Power of Pull, spoke about the old model of “banking education” in the early part of one’s life and this then standing you in good stead for the rest of your life. They, along with many others, argue that such a model is no longer sustainable as we need to invest in learning throughout our lives – not just in investing in the ‘best education’ till we reach our mid twenties. They also argue we need a different type of education – one that focuses more on skills rather than knowledge.

It is great to see Irish universities, such as DCU, planning how they will educate their students for this changed world, as can be evidenced by their recent Generation 21 Plan. They see themselves developing graduates that will be “creative and enterprising, committed to continuous learning, solution-oriented, effective communicators, globally engaged and active leaders”. Many see such skills as being essential in a modern 21st century society. Therefore we need to ask how our education system can prepare our youth and our adult learners to live and work in such a society?

From reading the recent press articles it seems that there are many isolated ‘change’ projects happening or about to happen across the Irish education system but we are currently missing a systemic approach to change. It seems we need a blueprint to guide this change across the entire education system and this may even require the input of other departments such as Finance, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and Taoiseach’s to name but a few. We surely need to link our Literacy and Numeracy Strategy at primary to changes in the Junior and Leaving Certificate so that we have young people ready to participate fully in programmes such as Generation 21.

Such a connected vision should involve as many strands of society as is possible – particularly our teachers. It seems that the teacher’s voice is missing from many of these discussions but they are central to implementing change in education. Many teachers realise that the world is changing but they need the hard facts in relation to why we need change. Progressive teacher professional development will be required to support teachers through this change.

Minister Quinnappears to be up for the challenges ahead even though he is short on money as evidenced in a report piece in the Irish Times and that is to be welcomed.

We must bring society with us, particularly our teachers. This begins by making a coherent case as to why change is needed and clarifying the role of the teacher in a changed education system. Most teachers are busy people and don’t have time to read long reports. We need clear communication so teachers can contribute to this change agenda now and in the future.

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