They transition during a period in which they seek independence and autonomy, but also need support and encouragement to forge their identity. For many, these needs are not met by the prescriptive and rigid nature of the education system. I was one of these students. My first two years of high school were an endurance test, and when I looked ahead to the next four years, I was filled with dread and boredom.
We need a new way to prepare secondary school students for the world they will enter. Templestowe College, where I now attend, is taking huge steps in this direction.
Our education system is dying. Sir Ken Robinson, internationally renowned education expert, argues that we are all born creative but school teaches us not to be.
“Creativity is as important now in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status,” he says.
Boston Consulting Group surveys indicate that for seven of the past eight years, innovation was rated as the top strategic imperative by businesses. But neither creativity nor innovation are priorities in our current education system, which was designed to meet the needs of industry 200 years ago.
School today prepares us for a world that has ceased to exist. The current Australian system was based on the Prussian model, designed to produce thousands of little units for simple, repetitive tasks in the industrial era. The model consists of one teacher, teaching a group of 20-30 students, who are all of a similar age. The teacher does education to the students and the students listen and ‘learn’. The model served countries around the world and enabled mass education to take place, but we no longer live in this world.
We have tinkered with the system to adjust to our changing times, such as adopting technology in the classroom and group learning techniques. This is not enough; we need to rethink education entirely. It’s similar to the evolution of the horse and cart: making faster horses is all well and good, but at some point you need to move onto the car or you’ll stop evolving.
The current system is geared towards maximizing academic results. What we need is a system that allows students to choose their own focus, follow their own passions and learn how to be creative and innovative.
While we can’t know what the future holds, the world into which students will emerge, especially in Australia, is one that will demand flexibility, innovation and creativity. In Australia, small businesses makes up 47 per cent of private employment in Australia, significantly more than either medium or big business.
The business world is becoming characterised by start-ups, and while Australians are currently doing pretty well in this field, we need to be doing better. Harnessing, rather than stifling, the enthusiasm and creativity of young people is the answer.
With robots and artificial intelligence mechanising all manner of jobs, a huge portion of future employment will be in industries and ideas that don’t exist yet. Globally, 22 million manufacturing jobs were lost to automation between 1995 and 2002, and in that time industrial output soared. Humans cannot compete with robots in simple labour tasks, and as machines get more complicated, more and more fields will be robotised.
Students need to be able to get employment in this kind of world, and for that they need to be entrepreneurs and innovators. They need to have ideas and to be creative. Businesses need young innovators and the best way to encourage entrepreneurs is to support innovation and creativity in school. We need a new future for schools. This future lies in one word: empowerment. Empowering students to drive their own learning, to take control of their education.
Allowing students more control of their education sounds like a good idea in theory, but you might be wondering how this kind of model would work, in practice. At Templestowe College (TC) students experience enormous freedom and flexibility, allowing them to follow their passions and interests, which fosters creativity.
It starts with questioning the way everything works. Every aspect of schooling has to be examined and called into question: curriculum, employment, administration, discipline. Take, for example, core curriculum and year levels, policies that are taken for granted in most schools.
At TC, these have been challenged, found to be limiting and unhelpful, and were abolished. Autonomous students, driving their own learning, toward clearly articulated goals, creates a positive, constructive school atmosphere. The flipside of this student empowerment is that responsibility to drive their own learning is placed on students.
But are these policies are successful? To answer this question, I have some recent school enrolment statistics. Five years ago, before any changes had taken place, 23 students applied for Year 7, while four times that were leaving. Enrolments for 2016 have risen to more than 160 for Year 7 (which we now call Entry Year) alone.
The methods employed at TC are oriented to the future. They are focused around empowering students to be able to pursue ideas and develop skills. And it’s working. Dozens of business have been established by students in the school, with 71 students having been employed to do all manner of jobs for the school.
Templestowe College has revolutionised education and developed a system that prepares students for the future. Unlike the experience of students in most high schools, they are engaged and actively involved in the school.
As for me, school has gone from something I have endured, to something I am proud to be part of, something I enjoy.