Friday, January 25, 2013

Kevin Donnelly: A guide to education jargon!

With schools about to start in a couple of weeks it’s a good time for parents to brush up on education fads and gobbledegook. Every profession and job has its clich├ęs and jargon words.  Canberra politicians talk about ‘at this point in time’, ‘ moving forward’ and ‘having a big agenda’.  In business, consultants talk about ‘synergy’, ‘triple bottom line’ and ‘leverage best practice’. Primary schools and teachers also have their own special way of talking that often makes it impossible for parents to work out whether their kids are learning or not and whether the school is the best place for their child.

Following are some examples of education jargon that you need to understand in order to work out what’s going on with your child’s education.

1: developmental, collaborative and non-judgemental assessment – in the past children where graded A to E (where E meant fail) or 1 to 10 (where 4 also meant fail) but, not any more.  Failing children is now considered bad for their self-esteem and assessment is non-judgemental.  Often words like ‘consolidating’ or ‘deferred success’ are used and parents are told it is wrong to compare kids against others in the class to see who is the best.

2: developmental learning – in the past children were expected to master what was being taught before they moved on to the next year level, not any more. New-age teachers argue that learning is developmental and by this they mean that students learn in their own way and at their own speed. As a result, concerned parents are told not to worry if their child is falling behind other students and that he or she will soon catch up in their own time.

3: facilitators and guides by the side – teachers used to be called teachers, not any more. Based on the idea that children can control their own learning and that it is wrong for teachers to stand at the front of the classroom and tell them what to do, in primary schools, they act as co-learners and guides by the side.

4: knowledge navigators and digital natives – children used to be called pupils or students but now, especially because of the impact of new technologies like computers and the internet, they are described as digital natives and spend lots of time researching on the net or using software programs.

5: open classrooms – instead of having one room and one teacher there are now open spaces where kids from different year levels mix together, sitting on floors, walking around and it’s hard to work out where the teacher is and who’s in control.

6: Personalised and child-centred learning – instead of teachers teaching to the whole of the class or groups of children they are now told that children can control and direct their own learning. Children do their own research projects based on what they find entertaining or relevant.

7: whole language - advocates of whole language argue that learning to read is as easy and natural as learning to speak and that children should ‘look and guess’ and be ‘immersed in a rich language environment’. Ignored is the more traditional phonics and phonemic awareness approach where children learn how to read by sounding out letters and dividing words into their letter/sound combinations. Boys are especially disadvantaged by whole language and many are described as dyslexic when the real problem is that they have never been properly taught how to read.

The problem with education jargon, in addition to confusing parents and making it hard to work out what’s going on, is that many of the fads lead to lower standards and make it harder for teachers to be effective.

In top performing countries in international tests like Finland, Singapore and Japan, compared to primary schools in Australia, there are still teachers and students, open classrooms are rare, teachers are in control, children are regularly tested and told when they have failed and there is more whole class teaching.

1 comment:

Denis McCarthy said...

In my final years of teaching I fought a losing battle against educational jargon promoted by academics and bureaucrats who sat safely in their offices while the real educators did their best to get on with the job.

In my school I seemed to be a lone voice trying to promote a Plain English curriculum, a Plain English Reporting system which made sense to parents and a Plain English assessment system which,while not overloading teachers, did indicate pupil success and failure.

My suggestion to parents is that they don't have to put up with this jargon or the refusal of teachers to actually teach and properly assess essential knowledge and skills. Parents elect the Board of Trustees, the BOT appoints the Principal. If parents still can't get satisfaction then make waves, go public, demand the ability to send your children to a school which actually teaches the things children should be taught.

I suggestwe need the Swedish system of school choice for parents. Funding follows the child.
Private or State schools either shape up and teach children properly or lose pupils.

Here in New Zealand the teachers unions would rather there was no school choice and that the present system of having children stuck in an unsatisfactory State school continues. In effect the unions want a monopoly on education and a closed shop. Take these two things away and you might see State schools re-thinking their educational objectives and their relationships with parents.