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The Forum > Article Comments > Rethinking Education - Part 2 > Comments

Rethinking Education - Part 2 : Comments

By Don Aitkin, published 4/5/2005

Don Aitkin argues that all Australians have the potential for many different careers, pastimes and sports.

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I am of Don Aitken's vintage. My solution is more radical than Don's.

The curriculum (designed by experts for experts and delivered by non-experts often), its teaching, its value, its impact ... is the essence of a problem. But the major problem is that secondary schooling is compulsory.

The system, a social construct, fell apart in NSW, when Henry Parkes,in a grab for power, did a deal with the RC rump of the Legislative Council and allowed the RC schools to co-exist alongside state schools (and the untouchable very elite). Then, in the 1920s the success of primary schools was sought to be replicated with secondary equivalents.

It worked in the short term. Reading success rates rose yet it wasn't until the end of WW1 that the NSW government enforced the 1880 act that included compulsion - 17000 kids started for the first time in 1918!

Society regards school as a 'good' and yet it may not be. School has effectively removed the responsibility for the most important decisions from parents (who have been educated!)and we now claim that parents won't take responsibility.

The world of work is quite different from what kids were to be protected from in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

We could do it so cleverly but we waste an incredible amount of money attempting to force-feed kids 'our learning style [and the accopanying curiculum]'. Why?

Surely we can do better: parents must share decision making processes; kids should have more say; education could be so different. Seymour Papert (The Children's Machine) calls it a buggy on a super-highway. Adults and adolescents CAN learn together and it is so much more natural! Schools are not that.

We have it wrong ... the true victims sit at desks, the very opposite to their preferred learning style and are told that this is their opportunity that they squander. That sets their future as failures and it takes many of them much more to reveal their true worth.

Education is good; school could be. It seems to prop up inequities and legitmise them; particularly over the last decade.
Posted by aka-Ian, Wednesday, 4 May 2005 2:02:38 PM
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Don, a great article with a lot of sense. What are the roles of not only the govt (and the F is for funding word) plus what parents can deliver, plus a broader outlook on "education" for one and all. As you say, being precocious at one thing doesn't make for a genius in later life and our education system, being based on the military system, does not cater for all and certainly does not equip one for the mainstream unless that student is well adjusted anyway. We can all have a go at a few things before finding one's forte in either employment or talent. Having had more career changes than Barbie, I've still dragged the essence of my skills around and built on them. My pastimes and talents are also rather different than what they were 20 years ago (thank the lord), which all goes to show that any student, regardless of educational, parental expectations etc. should not be put into a box and have the lid shut. Don't you just wish that you knew all this stuff when you were a student?
Posted by Di, Wednesday, 4 May 2005 7:37:16 PM
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I've now read both Don's articles and I'm disappointed that they do little of what the title promises to 'rethink education'. They state something I agree with that all humans have great potential abilities, that these are of different types, and that our education system does a poor job of finding out what each student's potential abilities are, and an even worse job of helping everyone develop those abilities. Having agreed with all that, I looked for practical suggestions on how schools and universities could do things better and found very little suggested. The only solution implicitly offered in article one was to ban all private schools but quite apart from the impracticality of that, the article did not even spell out how it would help even if it were practical.

To 'rethink education' in ways that will actually help everyone to realise their potential you need to discuss practicalities: things like what should schools do to find out far more about the nature of each student's potential than they presently do; and how schools could then organise things so that students in the same class could be helped to develop their different potentials. Do we, for instance, want a battery of tests based on Gardner's 8 types of intelligence? Does one exist? How would it avoid all the problems of IQ tests? How much choice should children get on what skills they wanted to spend time on? How could teachers cope with a variety of choices in the one class? Would it be good to stream groups according to different types of intelligence? etc. etc. etc.

Huxley's final novel, 'Island' offers some interesting practical ideas on how schools could identify and develop the variety of different intelligences that humans have. I would be interested to hear Don's ideas. What changes would he actually make to school and classroom teaching and learning practices if he found himself with the power to change our education system in ways that would achieve what I agree with him would be well worth achieving?
Posted by Tchamala, Thursday, 5 May 2005 8:08:20 PM
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I enjoyed both articles and agree with Don in many regards. Australia (and probably the rest of the world to some extent or another) is run on "..the persistent human tendency to rationalise inequality if one is the beneficiary of it" - it is probably at the very heart of modern capitalism. Look at the property boom of the last decade and see how much our community has changed. People who were previously happy with a modest family home, a car that got from A to B and kids at the local school now frantically aspire to giant eco unfriendly houses with more rooms than they know what to do with, eco unfriendly 4 wheel drives and private school educations for their kids at the expense of our state school system. I wonder what it'll be like in 2050 if we don't start to make changes to the education system starting now?

I also agree with aka-Ian's reference to Seymour Papert, who has been described as the intellectual father of educational computing. I think that digital technology hints at giving the access to missing knowledge that those kids with the errant parents/carers, Don mentions in his articles, are not getting. The internet at least gives us all the opportunity to join online communities (like this one)that can be so much more supportive and intelligent than the consumer crazy real world. I'm hoping that digital technology and the internet will accelarate our educational progress to get us to where we need to be before 2050.
Posted by chess, Friday, 6 May 2005 1:14:04 PM
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I am really disappointed to see such an uninformed article in Online Opnion. Unlike Don Aitken, I have not been living in an ivory tower for the past years, I have been raising and educating my profoundly gifted child on the pension while reading often in the media that such children and circumstances as ours do not exist.

There is an abundance of research and literature on the pedagogy of gifted students which contradicts the statements on which Don bases his conclusions. It looks, from his article that he has read none of this research and yet he is an academic. As the parent of a gifted child, I can not afford the luxury of being so ignorant of the facts. Because of the special needs of my child I have had to (home)educate him myself with absolutely no government or private sector funding or assistance whatsoever. The poor young man (now 14) has been accruing a debt with the tax department for his uni education since he began there at the age of 12. Articles like that written by Don do absolutely nothing for children like my son who works his proverbial off and can not find any program to support his education. I am more likely to cop public abuse for raising him to be such an outstanding character than given any support, moral or otherwise. I think that it is disgusting that this country makes children pay for their own university education because people are so ignorant of the needs of children such as my son. I do not know whether my son will stand out from the masses in a decade or so or not but I don't think that he should have to in order to justify an appropriate education.
Posted by Rosie, Friday, 6 May 2005 1:15:12 PM
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I thank those who commented. I have no monopoly on truth or argument, and always try to learn from what others say.

To aka-Ian, I confess that I'm not sure what your more radical solution is, though plainly we share some attitudes and possibly experiences.

To Di, yes! I wish I had known a lot of this when I was a student. I've seen such a lot of negativity (eg 'I can't sing a note', 'I can't draw for peanuts') that is self-fulfilling and leads to the people feeling bad about themselves. It's so easy to encourage; I wish we did it automatically instread of criticising and putting others down.

To Tchamala, I did not intend to offer new policies so much as to get readers to think a counter-intuitive thought: that we are all talented and intelligent. If that is accepted, then we can ask what a good education system would look like. That's stage 2. I'm still arguing stage 1. But I'm prepared to have a go at stage 2 soon. First we have to shift the foicus on winning.

To Rosie, I haven't been in a ivory tower for twenty years, and as a vice-chancellor I have been able to help 'gifted' children like your own find intellectual work that keeps them stimulated. They have acute problems, which you know better than I do. But I did say that there could be correct policies for such children without disturbing the central point, that all children have intelligence and capacities, and that it is government's job to find the best way to develop them, in the interests of us (and them) all.
Posted by Don Aitkin, Saturday, 7 May 2005 10:00:28 PM
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