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The evolution of the 21st century school February 18, 2010

Posted by learning21c in Directions in Education.
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From Associate Professor Steve Wilson

Not all of our work in the School of Education at UWS is about schools, but we do believe that good schools are critical in a good society. Our staff in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney have recently committed to working with the concepts of ‘next practice’ education and ‘21st century schooling’. We feel that our research and our teaching programs need to have a futures orientation if they are to be relevant in contemporary society.

Schools are essentially organised in the same way they have been for the last 100 years. While the curriculum has changed over that time, it is still delivered through the same fundamental teaching approaches that marked teaching and learning in the 20th century. Yet, the nature of society, accessibility to information, who creates information and how it is available, has changed dramatically.

Outside of schools, information technologies have transformed the way we network and communicate with each other, access and use information, buy and sell, travel and plan our leisure activities, and do business.  Schools are yet to catch up to this revolution, and where they have in terms of technology capability, the technologies are generally incorporated into prevailing ways of teaching and learning, marked by teachers who direct and disseminate information, and students who receive it.

The trouble is, the world has changed. Young people outside of schools are now creators of information through their social networking sites, wikis and blogs. They are often not happy to sit in schools and be regarded as ‘empty vessels’ to be filled and passively receive ‘learning’. They have considerable self-direction outside of school, and without the capacity to self-direct within school, tend to disengage from formal learning.

These are the challenges which confront the 21st century school. Given the rapidity of change in the ‘real’ world, schools risk increasing disengagement and irrelevance if they do not empower young learners the way they are empowered outside of school. How do we do this so that learning is challenging and rewarding? What forms of learning teaching can respond to these challenges so that kids remain engaged? What forms of school organisation will enable us to personalise learning for young people? Does an increased role for technology in schools means the end of teachers creating strong and supportive relationships with their students?

Our staff feel that 21st century schools are developing into exciting places as they address these challenges. It is clear that, given the nature of technological change over the past 20 years and the changed expectations of young people, schools will be quite different places in 2050. It is a fascinating question as to how they will and should change, and our goal is to work with schools, teachers and our student teachers to help answer these questions.

–  Steve Wilson, Head of the School of Education at UWS

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