Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
It’s always interesting to ask how young people feel about going back to school at the end of school holidays. Their facial expressions are often a good indicator. Many are happy about returning to school but mainly so they can catch up with their friends. Sadly, too few will tell you how excited they are about going back to schools so they can reconnect with their learning. It’s disappointing particularly when young people find activities out-of-school hours more engaging than those that occur in classrooms.
How do we change this? By making schooling relevant for young people. And the first step in doing this is to look at what and how young people are learning. Not long ago, the NSW Education Minister announced a review of the school curriculum. We have had many reviews over the past few decades that have produced little if any change. Changes to the curriculum need to be viewed with the focus on young people, not adults.
For too long, schooling has been an enterprise controlled by adults. We have told students what to learn, we have managed how they learn and with whom. We tell students what time to eat, how long they have to play and even how to wear their hair. All of these constraints don’t exist during school holidays. No wonder they disengage from learning!
Research into how we develop greater student agency and autonomy is pretty clear: we need to give young people a greater say over how they use their time, what things they want to work on and what interests they are keen to pursue. Watch children in free play or utilising their free time to build and explore, and you see very creative minds at work!
Today’s schooling experience should be the equivalent of school holidays on steroids. Students need to be given multiple opportunities and pathways to learn new things that are personally relevant and meaningful. Reviews into schooling need to start with the learner – what is it that they want to know, learn and do.
Technology has empowered young people to take greater control over their learning. A decade ago, researchers were warning us that what was happening outside of classrooms would eventually become more interesting than what was going on inside them. That message still rings true. The best way of ensuring schools remain relevant is to start with a curriculum that speaks to today’s learners, rather than adults. For that to happen, students need to having a voice in creating it.
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta