Monday, 11 March 2013

Chaos by Design?

In his most recent book, World Class Learners:  Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students (2012),  Yong Zhao stirs controversy with a series of educational dichotomies:

Chaos vs Structure
Curriculum vs Creativity
Independent vs Dependent
Universality vs Genius
United States vs China
PISA scores vs Entrepreneurship

The lecture below is one of many that questions our status quo.

Contemplating Zhao's discourse has been unsettling.  I have had some great discussions with our superintendent +Larry Espe as well as with colleagues around the province on the implications of Zhao's educational beliefs.

I say unsettling, because one of the mottos that has guided me well over the years is, "In Structure, there is Freedom".  The idea, for example, that students learn best in an environment that is predictable, where the criteria for assessment are clear, where a certain level of organization creates a sense of purpose and focus.  The fact is, I still believe in that maxim to a certain degree.  I also believe that Zhao has been deliberate in the polarizing manner in which he has presented his ideas.  

Nevertheless, he advances some compelling arguments.  In chapter four of his book for example, he points out that countries with the highest PISA scores also have the lowest levels of entrepreneurial qualities - ie. risk-taking, independence, creativity.  He illustrates this point by stating that Steve Jobs could never have become Steve Jobs in China - which has high achievement scores.  He would have been stifled by the rigid conformity and streaming mechanisms of the educational system.  Only in the United States, where entrepreneurial environments exist - based more on the arbitrary nature of their education system than by design - could a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates be produced.

I wonder what it would be like to put Andreas Schleicher (PISA, OECD) and Yong Zhao in the same room?

Ironically, both countries are now trying to emulate the respective success of the other - The US is trying to establish a more conform approach (Common Core) in order to attain higher PISA scores, while China is determined to undo the lock-step pressure cooker system into which every 2-year old enters in order to create entrepreneurial and creative environments!

To be fair, Zhao is not an anarchist... In fact, he is not sure that entrepreneurship can be taught in an educational setting - particularly in the developed world.  We don't have the same conditions as in developing countries where entrepreneurship is borne out of necessity rather than desire.

What he has confirmed in my own mind is that we should be very wary of mediocrity and compulsive compliance.  In a system where there is only one answer, one test and one way to do things, how can we expect creativity and genius to blossom?  Zhao extols some key elements that we would do well to incorporate into our teaching/learning:  

*  Student voice and choice
*  Student support - mentoring and personalization
*  Authentic products - relevant tasks
*  Global orientation - the world at our fingertips - technology
*  Global competence - languages, culturally sensitive/astute

Have a great week,