We talk to Jane Mueller, from Living Faith Lutheran Primary School who explains why it’s important that schools change and keep up with today’s society.
Once upon a time the typical classroom was filled with desks and chairs lined in neat rows. Students were told what to think and were expected to complete knowledge-based tasks. When the earth had done a full orbit of the sun, each child would move to a higher level.
Why were schools structured this way? And why are they now changing? There are two drivers for innovation in education: (i) the changing nature of the workplace; and (ii) engagement.
The Changing Nature of the Workplace
Schools were established in the 19th Century. They were structured like the factories they were built to serve. They put children on an assembly line, producing like-minded graduates. This cookie-cutting approach to education was appropriate for its time given the majority of graduates would go on to work in blue collar industries.
Agricultural and blue collar industries are on the decline on account of automation, whereas service and creative industries are on the incline. For our children to be equipped for these industries, they need a different skill-set than that that of the industrial era. Instead of memorising outdated information, entrepreneurial and interpersonal skills will prepare children for success beyond their schooling years.
Latest neuroscience research shows that the brain’s limbic system is geared towards threat and reward. When in a threat state, the sympathetic nervous system initiates a ‘fight or flight’ response. When in a reward state, the brain openly engages.
We must responsibly create an atmosphere in which children feel safe, secure and comfortable. The environment must be appropriately predictable, yet provide opportunities for engagement, empowerment and challenge.
What does this mean for our schools?
Let’s start with those desks and chairs. Occupational therapists report that desks and chairs do not suit 83% of students. Students will naturally gravitate to positions that suit their body type when given choice. Why should classrooms be cold and sterile, when they can instead resemble an airport lounge?
The modern classroom features a range of learning spaces that caters for extroverts, introverts and students with learning needs. Classrooms are equipped with agile furniture, enabling teachers and students to change the configuration of the furniture according to the learning task at hand. The design of learning experiences is limited only by the imagination of the teachers and students; not by the layout of the traditional classroom. A comfortable and attractive classroom results in engaged learners who strive to reach their potential.
While the physical space of the modern classroom may have the wow factor, it’s the way learning experiences are designed and implemented that is key.
The Australian Curriculum can be organised in a way that students can participate in meaningful projects that focus on solving real-world complex problems. These projects can be individualised, acknowledging that, just as children grow physically at different rates, they also grow academically at different paces. There is a shift away from end-of-term tests, and instead a focus on learning and improvement. Students understand themselves as learners and use this awareness to grow and stretch themselves. Students strive to be life-long learners strong in creativity, collaboration, adaptability, critical thinking and global awareness.
The role of teacher is different in the contemporary classroom. In the past, the teacher was the holder and distributor of knowledge. Now, children take control of their learning and the teacher becomes more of a facilitator; a coach who knows when to encourage and when to challenge and stretch the individual.
The Future of Schooling
The next time you find yourself asking, ‘Why do schools need to change?’ take a moment to rethink how the world has changed since your childhood. Think also about how your workplace has changed over time. If schools do not keep pace with the world, we rob our children of their future. Be excited about the future. Trust the very committed educational professionals who share your dream of a magnificently successful future for your child, and who make research-based and evidence-informed changes as a result.
Jane Mueller is the Principal of Living Faith Lutheran Primary School, Murrumba Downs. She is passionate about creating learning environments that address an ever-changing society in order for children to be equipped for their future. Find out more about Living Faith Lutheran Primary School.
This article was published in Issue 22 of our print magazine, June/July 2017.