Yong Zhao explains that we have a dead curriculum and we impose it on all our children - if they don't succeed we blame both the teachers and the students - but we need to ask ourselves if the curriculum standards and assessments are truly valuable for all children. We need to question the idea of a curriculum.
He mentions that it is not enough to have talents - you need something to trigger that talent through your experiences. We believe we can teach children anything, but how good can they become at everything? We are all different and we have talents in different areas, as well as different personalities and desires, diverse life experiences. What works for one child may not work for other children. This is the problem for education with one curriculum. We imagine the curriculum will get children ready for the future - but there is no evidence for this: the future is created by children, not waiting for them to walk in.
Our education does not prepare students for the future - it is for them to create a future - and we want them to be good creators of our future. Children are naturally intentional and diverse and then they come to a one size fits all curriculum and this doesn't work. Governments and organisations are working hard to impose the same thing on all children at the same time so that they reach the same level by giving them the same knowledge and skills. However many of our assessments create borders - creating "good" and "bad" students. We need to think about assessment being short-term and it may not capture what we want our children to learn.
Looking at data, it's not just a question of scores on tests, it's also a question of confidence. Asian students often outscore American students, but they have less confidence and less enjoyment with their learning. There are different ways of driving up test scores, but these methods may well be hurting the education of the students as they may lose interest in education or lose confidence in themselves. In fact, PISA scores have a negative correlation with entrepreneurship, and high PISA scores have a negative correlation with life satisfaction. This is not where we want to go long-term.
For example you may have "productive failures" where students cannot do something now, but may be able to do so in the future. PBL, for example, builds collaboration, creativity and resilience. It won't give as quick a hike in test scores as direct instruction, but in the long-term the skills transfer into the future.
You need to question education. You need to recognise there are multiple outcomes (some are short-term, some are long-term). There are instructional outcomes which are not the same as educational outcomes - students may memorise facts but may not be curious. There are also cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes, for example whether you can do something or whether you want to do something.
All children are natural learners. They are divers and are intentional. We cannot have the same curriculum and tests for all children as they need self-determination:
Autonomy - They need to be responsible for their own learning, and we as adults should help and support them and create opportunities. Students are capable and agentic, and they cab do a lot.
Mastery - Do students feel they have control over their learning and that they can improve? Students need to believe that they can learn.
And don't forget that learning happens in relationships.
Last year Yong Zhau wrote the book Learners Without Borders. In this he challenged us to think about flexibility in the curriculum: it should not be imposed on all students but instead maybe only 1/3 of the curriculum is useful in this regard. Another 1/3 of the school's curriculum can address the school's unique context. But what if we let students decide the rest of the curriculum? Can we learn globally and work out what the borders are for all children? Can we change the role of teachers, and having children spending their whole times in grade levels with others of the same age. Can we apply flexibility to the curriculum, testing, school time, facilities, the roles of teacher, and the roles of students?
Learning online has become normal for students as a result of Covid. We can expand the territory of learning and it's important to consider what education we can recreate post-Covid. We should not be misled by the notion of learning loss - instead we need to meet students where they are psychologically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. We should be paying attention to all educational outcomes not just test scores. We want students to own their own learning - with confidence, curiosity and resourcefulness - they are partners who can design learning. We should not forget the value of remote learning - many children are very happy with this and many kids thrive in this environment. We need to build schools back better.
We must favour our children over curriculum - children are more important than prescribed curriculum - they can learn something if are interested enough later. Currently we are forcing kids to learn things that may or may not matter, By doing this, we disregard their diversity and purpose. We must pay more attention to each individual child. We cannot just see a classroom controlled by the teacher as the only place to learn. Educators should become organisers, curators of learning resources in a situation where ALL learning needs to be done by children. We live in a global world and children should participate in a global environment to learn from and with anyone globally and to learn for anyone globally too. Learning has to be purposeful. It is always ongoing. Our job is to become a human educator and to grow with our children.
Photo Credit - Gerd Altmann on Pixabay