Assembly-line model of education must change

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Students sitting state exams (Courtesy of Bryan O’Brien, Irish Times)

On Wednesday October 7th 2009, the Irish Times Opinion piece carried the headline, “Assembly-line model of education must change”. The article was written by Michael John Gorman who is director of the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin and raises serious issues around our current model of education, particularly at second-level. For those of you who read the TeachNet Blog on a regular basis you will know that this is a issue we have raised here in the past.
Michael John believes that our current education system is failing to equip our students for the 21st century. He quite rightly believes that there is a world of a difference between the reality in secondary schools and the government’s aspirations to create a Knowledge Society, as outlined in their Smart Economy document.

He believes there is an appetite for change and suggests we conduct some piltots to explore some new models of education. However, I fear pilots are not the answer – if anything we have too many pilots in Irish education. Our record to “mainstream” pilot projects is poor to say the least. Actually there are some pilot projects already in place that are relevant to this discussion – the NCCA Key Skills Project, Project Maths, the DSE Discover Sensors Project, the Microsoft 21st Century School in Dunshaughlin and the iScoil Project (Ireland’s version of Not School). The problem is we need the Department of Education and Science and associated agencies to support these initiatives so they have a real opportunity to succeed. This will require leadership and financial support – it will also require joined up thinking and activities on the part of a wide number of agencies.

I do agree with Michael John that we need to review our examination system at second-level as it places too much emphasis on memorisation and recall, skills that no longer hold the same place in society as they did in previous generations. Previously we have highlighted the work of Don Tapscott, Grown Up Digital, in this blog and he too believes that memorisation is no longer a key skill for today’s learners. This generation has the Web – they need new skills in relation to assessing information – what some people call information or digital literacy. This move away from memorisation will require us to change our assessment methods, something that other countries are starting to investigate. Unfortunately, we in Ireland are slow to change and this appears to be a major barrier to programmes of change taking place in schools.

Michael John has certainly given us food for thought in his thought provoking article and I hope it gets students, parents and teachers to consider his point of view and to initiate a discussion on the topics. Other countries are certainly taking action and moving ahead and we need bold leadership to do something similar if we will really want to create a Smart Society in Ireland.

To read the article click here. So let us know what you think of Michael John’s notion of an “assembly-line model of education”?

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