Last week I was honoured to be invited by the state minister for education, Hon. Adrian Piccoli, to a special Education Symposium, bringing together representatives from the independent, Catholic and Public sectors of education. This is the first time that leaders of all three sectors have been invited to come together. I was invited to represent small schools and Montessori schools, in particular. It was two days of listening to pioneers in education from around the world. We were able to listen to Pasi Salhberg, who is one of the pioneers of the Finnish education system, consistently rated as the best education system in the world. We also heard from one of the key proponents of Shanghai’s leading education system and held robust discussion about what we can learn from their systems and also what would not culturally be able to be transferred to the Australian context. We heard from Charles Leadbetter, one of the key voices espousing education change. I was thrilled to see the minister sitting through the whole conference and listening to these leading voices whose words and cautions echo those of Maria Montessori, proving that Montessori education is still reflecting the very best of contemporary education practice. Here are some highlights of Charles Leadbetter’s presentation.
Leadbetter spoke about how we live in an age of automation. In these times we need, more than anything, to learn how to be better humans. We need to teach our young humans to do those things that only humans can do, jobs that require skills such as empathy, deep thinking, imagination, collaboration, creativity - and yet we are (in the mainstream system), in educating students to follow instructions and all do the same thing at the same time according to a very prescribed curriculum, essentially training people to scan barcodes. Leadbetter advised that we should be automating all jobs that can be automated – we should not be training people to be robots. We need to change the world.
In schools, we tend to teach our children to “keep calm and carry on”, but what we need to do is raise disrupters. Disrupters become leaders. The danger of current complacent education systems is the concept of keep calm and carry on when really, everything needs to change. We have a beaurocratic system of ‘hypernormalisation’ – a fetish of moving things around, changing curriculum, assessment and employment conditions based on the fallacy of big data (such as NAPLAN – which tells us almost nothing about individual children and individual schools, or about deep/critical thinking, creativity or the whole child – but more on this next week when I discuss Sahlberg’s words). Leadbetter calls this “stagnant urgency”. We need to reform hypernormalisation. Instead, we need to learn to play the game of education better. We need to reimagine what education looks like – to create a better game. He talked about how we can prepare our children for the rapidly changing world in which we live. He said we need to change our education systems and move them from one of teaching students to follow instructions to one of solving problems. In a world of systems, our capacity for empathy is going to be vital. Therefore, we need environments that are structures but also very relational. He said that peer learning is essential. Older students should be teaching their younger peers. By the time they graduate school, they should be able to say not “this is what I have learnt”, but, “this is what I can teach; what I have taught.” He described engaged learning as: peer learning, collaborative learning and an agile curriculum. Sound familiar? It is good to hear mainstream, respected educators describe the work that we do as best practice. It affirms that you as parents have made the right choice in choosing Montessori education for your children.
Have a wonderful week ahead!