If the system ain’t broke…

I’M all for improving ‘the system’. When something isn’t working efficiently, of course it makes sense to look for alternative ways to get the job done.

This is especially true when it comes to our kids’ education.

So if our policy makers and thought leaders need to look abroad for inspiration, to make sure our children are receiving the best possible shot at learning – well, that can only be a good thing. Right?


I’m not so sure.

Last week, Dr Kevin Donnelly from the Australian Catholic University, suggested that Australian teachers should follow China’s lead and abandon contemporary teaching methods.

“The Chinese favour a ‘chalk and talk’ approach, whereas Australia has been moving away from this direct form of teaching to a more collaborative form of learning where students take greater control,” he says.

Given China’s success in international educational testing, he reckons we may be misguided in moving away from learning models where the teacher stands at the front of the class and “directs learning and controls classroom activities”.

The Australian Council for Educational Leaders (ACEL) has countered that in Shanghai, a city with a population the size of Australia, there is likely to be “a wide range of approaches to teaching and learning in its thousands of schools,” says Professor Emeritus Brian Caldwell, ACEL spokesperson.

And while those formal, traditional classrooms may be successful in China, they may not be the best approach down under.

Those were the kinds of classrooms I grew up learning in. And they were fine – for me. I was a fairly academic student and I loved writing, so I thrived under that structured style of teaching – truth be told, I would have thrived under any.

But for the kids in my class who didn’t have great attention spans, who struggled with spelling, who couldn’t quite concentrate on their maths assignment… For those kids, it was torture.

And my best schooling memories – the ones where I was most engaged – were the unusual moments.

For instance, I was way more excited to learn about our country’s first explorers when I was cooking damper during social studies, than I was while sitting quietly while my teacher shared information from the front of the class.

Here’s hoping our kids get to explore the soggy banks of school ovals searching for tadpoles in science class for many years to come!

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