Across the Atlantic in Britain, innovation in education is streaming ahead. Educators have recognised the huge potential of the new Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Duncan Jefferies writing in theGuardian explains:
“…… new technologies have potential to disrupt the education system, bringing about major changes in the way pupils learn and challenging the ways schools and colleges are run.”
The New Learning Academies such as the Cornwallis Academy in Linton, Kent, are at the forefront of this revolution in British education. New building design replaces shut in classrooms with open learning plazas where the students intermingle socially, helping each other in small groups while undertaking cross discipline projects using ICT. These plazas are not dissimilar to the architecture of many modern public libraries where a multitude of resources and technology are readily accessible to the client, though I fancy the school plazas are much noisier and busier in comparison. Technology in the plazas includes tablets, laptops, a range of networked computers, and a huge projection screen for large group presentations. Teachers circulate. They are on hand to answer questions, help and guide. There are nooks and spaces in the plazas where they may work one-to-one with individuals or with small groups. Their task is made easier by picking up on web-based applications such as those produced by Futurelab, a not-for-profit organization committed to developing creative and innovative approaches to education.
The Studio School Network in Britain has adopted a similar pedagogy. The name ‘Studio School’ comes from the concept of the Renaissance studio, prevalent in Europe from around 1400 to 1700, where working and learning were integrated. It was a model where the students were taught by an experienced master in the same workshop in which the master created and produced his work. So the Studio Schools approach is to engage students in real life enterprises which challenge them to seek knowledge and gain skills to participate in and complete the tasks. Much of the education occurs outside the school in half-day work experience placements. This can be extended to two days a week in Years 11-13.
The inclusion of Emotional Intelligence as an aspect of the curriculum is one of the reasons for the excellent motivation shown by the students in these innovative British schools. The students learn to recognize their moods and feelings and to be sensitive to the emotional states of others. It helps them become aware of their intuitive and often impulsive responses which can get in the way of more appropriate reasoned behaviour. This new literacy helps them understand themselves better and how they might achieve by pursuing their interests and setting educational goals. A ‘personal coach’ is assigned to each student to meet with them every fortnight. The coach can track their progress and help them tailor their curriculum to their individual needs and abilities.
Education Queensland is to be commended for experimenting with its senior schooling Academies. They aim to accelerate learning opportunities for Queensland’s best and brightest students in Years 10, 11 and 12. The Queensland Academy for Creative Industries at Kelvin Grove operates in partnership with the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), while the Queensland Academy for Science, Mathematics and Technology at Toowong operates in partnership with the University of Queensland. The new Queensland Academy for Health Sciences operates on the Gold Coast in partnership with Griffith University. The educational program offered by the academies is the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. This is a world-recognised pre-university qualification and characterised by accelerated studies, extension and enrichment work with universities, industry experience and personal and social development.
“The programme emphasises the importance of breadth and depth in academic study whilst maintaining a focus on the very way we understand knowledge through the Theory of Knowledge course. Students are encouraged to become active global citizens and understand the importance of care and compassion in an increasingly globalised world. The Diploma encourages students to develop their physical, emotional, intellectual and ethical selves and as such is well regarded and recognised by the world’s leading universities.”
This is a model that will surely suit highly motivated academic students but has limited value across the board. It can only be accessed by students whose parents have the commitment and financial means to support the students and so are able to provide textbooks and resources needed in these high-powered studies. I note that the campuses make limited provision for the sporting and extra-curricula embellishments that a normal high school provides. Also the Baccalaureate embodies a style of curriculum and learning through which, if not in the hands of insightful leadership, students may be left floundering in a pedagogy that is made obsolete by the rapid growth of information technology and its possibilities. I believe there are other ways to achieve the same ends with a pedagogy aimed across the whole range of students and not just academies for the elite scholars.