Fence Sitters Need Not Apply

Our education systems have to change and they are changing. There are new models being developed all over the world. But for the majority, they cannot break the umbilical cord connecting them to irrelevant exam systems. Within the purple circle (as illustrated in the image), lies the current & massive dilemma. 

Until governments are prepared to break the connection between the old and new, maintained by retaining the reliance on the old standard-based assessments – there will be continued angst as we are literally stuck between two worlds. 

The answer is already clear, as research and experience has shown, standards-based approaches that have underpinned national exams and other assessment strategies, do not lead to sustained improvements in educational outcomes. They highlight that it is possible for the brain to retain facts and knowledge in short term memory – but for what purpose?

We need to cut the link and find new ways of developing a holistic credential, based on portfolios and other creative means. The future is already here – the time to act is now!

Stephen Harris Co-founder Our Dream School (www.ourdream.school)

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 9.14.11 am.png

Caught between the past and the future

Caught between the past and the future

I am an eternal optimist. The perpetual glass half full personality, even when there is just a small drop of water in it. I have no doubts that at some stage into the not-so-distant future, there will have been sufficient years between the 1990s and then, for people to have worked out what it is through which we are currently journeying. With the spread of the world wide web from around 1994, the playing field for education changed fundamentally. No longer was content knowledge something to be created, commercialised and delivered – rather information has been accessible for all via the web. Information has been democratised.

If people do not understand this, just observe the changes in the remote corners of countries like Rwanda – right in the heart of Africa, where mobile phones and Wi-Fi have penetrated deep into the communities - and new generations of learners have realised that they too can access the same information as every other country. Technology, the web and mobile devices are the equalizer that will be the continual game changers.  

The problem is that the pervasive global education models, with their examinations and teacher-centred paradigms, are now totally inappropriate for the current generation and those to come. The models were designed to prepare communities for mass participation in factories or perhaps far larger public service departments. Those worlds simply do not exist as they once did.

I am greatly encouraged that the OECD is already looking beyond the world of current PISA testing to 2030 and what may be relevant then:

Competencies to shape the future: 
It is about acting rather than to be acted upon, shaping rather than to be shaped
and choosing rather than to accept choices decided by others.

From http://www.oecd.org/education/school/education-2030.htm

Sometimes I wonder which countries would shine if we were to assess the strength of their educational systems by some means of seeing whether:

·       They effectively encouraged their younger generations into social justice responsibilities

·       They encouraged people into habits of further and lifelong learning

·       They encouraged people to understand their potential purpose in life and how they could contribute to create a better future for all

·       They nurtured the capacity for healthy relationships and positive growth in communities

·       Their education systems were generating creative thinkers and entrepreneurial capacity (where people are empowered to create their own job, if needed)

Who would come out on top? I don’t really know.

We need to step bravely into the future and invent the new models for learning. We should not leave it to politicians or bureaucrats, who themselves are constrained by short term political cycles and the fear of losing votes or budgetary constraints. But the solutions are not to be found in votes or budgets. The future is to be found in activating the potential of learners worldwide, whatever their age, to be unleashed and empowered in ways not currently even dreamt of. We need to nurture communities where learners can thrive and help shape their futures.

I love being part of the www.ourdream.school team – a group of fearless individuals, who along with many other similar groups of intrepid explorers across the world, are stepping up to lead the change. If we all take our little part in the generating the waves of change, we can all be the change needed!

© Stephen Harris 2018


Screen Shot 2018-02-05 at 3.35.21 pm.png

The times they are a-changin'

Do you check the use-by date on food items at the supermarket? If our examination systems and assessment structures had a ‘use-by’ date, they would be well and truly past the expiry date. Current processes were created as part of education systems that stretch way back to the 1800s. Report cards contained minimal words and on many occasions just a sequence of numbers. Those numbers though, have caused havoc for many a learner who has felt failure or shame, because they did not pass some arbitrary benchmark – that most likely was meaningless in the first place. I look back on my high school reports and see something like 2/30 and 79 – accompanied by two words ‘well done’.  A totally fruitless exercise that did nothing to excite a passion for learning.

But there remains the problem of governments, politicians and legislated requirements. Clearly the growing indicators of a system well past its effective use are obvious. The Competency Works movement in the US (www.competencyworks.org) and other similar movements are the start of a broad wave of change that will sweep through education and schooling. Some universities and colleges are already creating pathways into their courses that do not involve examination marks. Universities are very wary of the high-ranking student who has been ‘force-fed’ information and knowledge, finishing up in a course that is not their chosen future or passion. Many companies, once requiring a college or university qualification, have now opened their doors to non-graduates, recognizing that experience and focus is potentially producing better employees. Many parents though are often none-the-wiser about the changing context, drawing back to their own experience as a student and a model they hope might still work. But it is undeniably in decline. For many parents, it is not until their child becomes disengaged from their learning, that they recognise that solutions are few and far between.

And then there is the entire ‘cheating’ industry that has grown up to surround schools, colleges and universities with daily challenges. It is yet another indicator of the demise of traditional assessment methods. Finding new ways to try and identify cheats and assessment scams is like trying to plug ever increasing holes in a sinking ship. Our money and time should be invested in proactive fresh ways of recognising capacity, rather than trying to pick up what is likely to be only a very small part of the ‘cheating’ industry.

So, it is time to change. Politicians and governments must recognize this. We should not be driven by a desire to come top of the OECD ranks. It is not difficult to find statistics that point to increasing mental health, anxiety and other related issues for students from a number of the higher-ranking PISA countries. The crisis is real.

The problem? The reliance on the traditional examination structures is the one thing that constrains any school, college or university. It means that teachers and students have to lock down their creativity and stay on a ‘have to improve results’ bandwagon. Please don’t get me wrong. Outcomes are very important – but a system that preferences the more compliant learners who have strong memorising capacities, is not the way ahead. The other 90% are likely to be on perpetual 'struggle street', until they drop out.

So, what is the solution? I am pleased to say that projects such as www.ourdream.school based in Barcelona have chosen a starting premise – what could learning be like if we did not place the assessment/examination constraint in the picture? What would we be freed up to do? What are the possibilities?

And the answer? The possibilities are endless. Learning becomes a far more relational experience, centred around authentic projects and fed by passion. Curiosity and authentic need become the drivers to personal growth. Learning becomes the focus, not the credential. But if the model itself creates the credential through a continual journey of co-created learning experiences giving rise to new competencies, then learning and the credentialing of learning become essentially one and the same thing. And that makes total sense!


Zagreb April 2015 Keynote Talk (4 parts)

Below is my Keynote Talk for the European Learning Teacher Network on the key facets of transforming schools - broken up into four sections, with the section on NBCS/SCIL further divided into two (because of file sizes). The links to the videos do not work within the PDF presentations, so some are provided here:

Project Barcelona 3D Fly Through: https://vimeo.com/114293702

SCIL on TEN Eyewitness News: https://vimeo.com/89886128

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2(a): visual tour NBCS/SCIL

Part 2(b): visual tour Project Barcelona as at April 2015

Part 3: four key thoughts 

Part 4: application & tools