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School education: designed to fail?

Education, more properly learning, has been subject to numerous inquiries and reforms. In Australia and elsewhere the policy debate is framed in the context of school and preparation for employment, a job. Intervention by governments over the last 50 years has been substantial and mostly unproductive.

School is not the main place of learning and jobs are not the most important desired outcome. The brief prepared by several United Nations organisations says:

Education is a fundamental human right and the bedrock of sustainable development: it contributes to all three dimensions of sustainable development – social, economic, and environment – and underpins governance, and security of the individual. The interconnected dividends that result from investments in equitable quality education are immeasurable – generating greater economic returns and growth for individuals and societies creating a lasting impact on public health, decent work and gender equality, and leading to safer and more resilient and stable societies.

Learning is a social process, takes place over one’s entire life and in many different contexts. The OECD Report Teachers Matter lucidly expresses the complexity of learning and the influences on it.

Student learning is influenced by many factors, including students’ skills, expectations, motivation and behaviour; family resources, attitudes and support; peer group skills, attitudes and behaviour; school organisation, resources and climate; curriculum structure and content; and teacher skills, knowledge, attitudes and practices. Schools and classrooms are complex, dynamic environments and identifying the effects of these varied factors, and how they influence and relate with each other – for different types of students and different types of learning — has been, and continues to be, a major focus of educational research.”

Some have linked increases in student test scores to economic growth. That lacks good evidence and is a poor reason for advancing learning. Organisational leadership, workplace relations, economic and cultural diversity also contribute substantially to the economy and society. Cross-border transfer of ideas has more influence on prosperity than income growth.

The most significant correlation with learning achievement is with socioeconomic (SES) background. That includes the very important relationship of the child with parents. So, obviously the way to improve student learning is to invest in those factors which improve family SES including support of young families. As a result of policies over the last 15 years especially, students with the lowest attainments are increasingly concentrated in less advantaged schools with less qualified teachers which leads to greater learning difficulties amplified by consequent lower self-esteem.

Encouraging creativity – curiosity and imagination – develops empathy and commitment to cooperation....................

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