Have we been struggling for the right reasons?

Aug 3, 2020 | News

Over the last few months, the notion of parents and children struggling to learn from home, or away from school, has created endless reams of news articles.  The premise that schooling, or learning, should happen in a given environment, with a set of prescribed standards, and a predetermined plan appears to have been accepted at face value; and in an attempt to recreate this at ‘Home’, has left most parents and children floundering in the dark, worrying about a ‘black hole’ in each young persons’ development.

However, is there a myth engrained in education which places too much emphasis on education happening within a sterilised environment, or for that matter delivered by a specific individual?  I recall with disappointment a time from my teaching days, when asking the ‘Head of Learning’ to sign off on a school trip, being informed that the students could not afford to be taken away from their ‘learning’.

For me, but contrary to the ‘Head of Learning’, they had missed the point on ‘What is Learning?’ and ‘Where Learning Happens’.  For this individual (and many others), ‘Learning’ was about remembering facts – having the knowledge drilled into them so that on cue they could recount it word for word.  Now reading the endless articles of how students are missing learning, and how gaps in learning will cause developmental damage in years to come, it appears maybe that the issue is not so much with the ‘circumstances’,  but with the definition of ‘Learning’ itself.

We have grown up believing (or being told) that education happens in schools.  However, when we look back on our school lives, what is it that we remember most?  What is it that we recall as offering us the greatest learning experiences?  What is it that we have taken from our years in education and used to our benefits in later years?

Whereas the importance of knowledge gained through rigorous repetition plays an important role in all students’ development, should this be overused at the detriment of experiencing, living, experimenting, failing, adapting, applying?

It is true that if the aim of education is to ‘train’ a student to pass a test, to regurgitate knowledge at the correct time and in a matter that it appropriate for a specific occasion, then ‘YES’, lost classroom time will have a heavy impact – asks any parrot trainer.

However, if our vision for education is that our students develop a set of skills, competencies, and behaviours alongside a deep and personalised understanding of knowledge, then maybe rather than regretting the loss of ‘Learning’, we should instead be ensuring that we have not missed a trick.  Life has offered us an opportunity to look deeply into our education environments and systems, and like any ‘Learning Exercise’, learning from our failings is what makes us more competent and successful in the future.  The stark realisation that education is rapidly becoming demotivating and distant from its purpose, should in fact stimulate debate around pedagogy, curriculum, and environment, rather than forming the basis of a frantic search for methods of sustaining previously held convictions.

In a recent BBC article (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-53498523), the ONS was quoted as saying that 52% of students who struggled did so out of a lack of motivation, and that 43% of children had suffered from a drop in their ‘well-being’.  Whilst Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, said the figures suggested 450,000 young people were struggling to learn due to a lack of technology at home.

Whilst these figures tell a story (sell tabloids and offer political point scoring), they don’t offer the insight or understanding which positively impacts on Educations ‘Next Step’, or as the World Bank put it, our opportunity to ‘Build Back Better’.  What they do serve is to sustain a failing system with makeshift scaffolds.

Surely, having experienced the last few months, we should be considering the framework and structure, the purpose and values of what we offer in terms of education, rather than complaining that it hasn’t worked.

Maybe the answer lies in looking at what we are trying to ‘achieve’ (a curious practitioner of learning), rather than what we are trying to ‘prove’ (an ability to regurgitate facts); and with that, consider… Where are our opportunities, What are our resources, Where can learning happen, and most importantly… ‘What is Learning’.