We need tomorrow’s teachers today

By Robert Kay

Wednesday May 1, 2019

Australia’s education system is in dire need of an overhaul, one that starts with those on the frontlines – our teachers.

The fourth industrial revolution is upon us, and massive disruptions in the nature of employment mean many of the things our children are learning today will be obsolete by the time they enter the workforce.

In today’s industrial system of education, teachers are assumed to be replicas of each other – standardised units who can apply the curriculum in the same way to all children in all circumstances. The reality, of course, is they are not. They hold different assumptions about knowledge and learning. These assumptions colour teachers’ interpretations of new experiences, inform the way they develop their learning designs and define the way in which they engage children in the learning process.

Teaching is anchored to a world that no longer exists

Unlike other occupations, most people have spent more than a decade in school, observing teachers, experiencing the testing regime, and building a deeply held point of view 20th Century. They, like us, were taught in Australia’s ‘Education 1.0’ system, and that model dictates how many believe they should teach.

This current education system devotes much of its resources teaching students to memorise isolated factoids long enough to pass a test. As the fourth industrial revolution looms, this education will leave our students woefully unprepared for the futures they face.

Instead, teachers must be encouraged to embrace the principles of ‘Education 3.0’, wherein students are assessed not only on what they know but how and why they know it.

What is Education 3.0?

Education 3.0 has many similar characteristics to 2.0 in terms of educational philosophy, in that knowledge does not come in neat, isolated factoids, but the key difference is that in Education 3.0, learning extends beyond traditional school boundaries and into the real world.

Students learn experientially in a setting that more closely resembles the real world because it is the real world – perhaps a laboratory, an office building, or an area of importance to an indigenous community. The problems are not dumbed down abstractions or simulations, they are real.

Education 3.0 recognises that children know when the task they’ve been set is artificial hoop jumping, and so their engagement is commensurate with the meaningfulness of the task. With Education 3.0 they move from surface learning – enough to pass exams – to deep learning, enabling them to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

In this new model, teachers are no longer the arbiter of all knowledge — they’re a facilitator who guides students as they unpack and solve real-life problems. Through the 3.0 model, students learn the critical 21st Century skills they’ll need to thrive in a future that is unlike anything that has come before it: adaptability, complex communication and social skills, and the ability to self-manage.

READ MORE: What inquiry-based learning is and how it helps prepare children for the real world

The problem with how we are choosing our teachers

Unfortunately, the recent debate around teacher selection has centred almost exclusively on ATAR scores. ATAR scores are a blunt tool for grading potential teachers, particularly as this only scores their ability to succeed within the current, archaic Education 1.0 system. The move to increase minimum ATAR thresholds not only disregards other selection criteria and ignores the low correlation between admission scores and success in teaching courses, but it assumes the education system we currently have – and have had for decades – is adequately teaching our children.

The shift that is required in our education system, from 1.0 to 3.0, will not be incremental, it will be paradigmatic. Most importantly, it will require teachers whose dispositions and assumptions align with 3.0 practices.

There is, of course, ‘Education 2.0’, but Australia missed the bus on this shift. Despite being the focus of expensive education reforms of Australian governments for the past 30 years, there is little evidence of the practice in schools. Now, in 2019, we must move on. The necessary leap is from our current 1.0 model directly to the required 3.0.

A teacher’s mindset is everything

After 1000 observation sessions in classrooms, using the Teacher Expertise Scaffold and Analytic (TESA) framework, our researchers have discovered that ‘teacher assumptions’ had the most profound impact on students achieving Education 3.0 outcomes. The effect of other variables, such as teacher age, length of service, post-graduate education or professional development paled in comparison to the teacher’s world-view on the nature of knowledge and learning.

When it comes to achieving the Education 3.0 outcomes students will need, success, therefore, is likely to pivot on one single factor — the teachers’ deeply held assumptions. What this means, is that any strategy designed to effect change in our education system that does not directly attempt to work with teachers’ assumptions about knowledge and learning, such as focusing solely on ATAR scores, has practically no chance of achieving a change to 3.0. Many millions of dollars later, this is precisely where governments failed in their attempts at 2.0.

If we’re to begin addressing the fundamental problem with education in Australia – that we’re primarily teaching children to recall and recite, rather than how to learn and solve problems – we need to move away from focusing on traditional academic metrics. This is true not only for what and how Australian students learn, but also how we select those who will teach them.

We need to focus less on memorisation and assessments, and more on teaching our students how to adapt and how to communicate. We must give them agency. For that, we need to support our teachers in breaking the mould of traditional educational practices.

In short, we need tomorrow’s teachers. Those who believe in the benefit of teaching these skills to their students – and we need them today.

Dr Robert Kay is a co-founder and executive director Incept Labs.

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