Who will Gonski Gonski? The Gonski 2.0 proposals are flawed, heavy in bureaucracy and will stifle creativity in children, writes classroom teacher, Paul Johnson .
It seems that the future of education has blindly embraced the brand Gonski without suitable reflection. What is proposed is not only unoriginal in design but with the method of its proposed implementation, each day in the classroom will be akin to NAPLAN on steroids and the creative teacher will become redundant. If we adults are to act as critical, active and engaged citizens too, then it is necessary to ask: “who will Gonski Gonski?”
The latest edition of Gonski 2.0 goes beyond a revised funding model. Its proposal has a direct impact on schools and more importantly the daily pedagogical practices of the classroom teacher. I’m curious; how much of these proposals were authored by Dr Gonski himself?
The Gonski Institute incorporates education experts who sit alongside its director, the former Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli – himself a trained high school teacher. It also welcomed to the fold the architect of the Finnish education revolution, Pasi Sahlburg. I am also curious to know how he has remained so silent on these classroom proposals that seem anathema to the child-centred autonomy of the much-lauded Finnish education system.
What is old is new again
The proposals targeting the teachers’ classroom practices are both unoriginal and flawed, as this article will hopefully demonstrate.
At the kernel of this review is the motherhood statement describing a school of the future as “becoming and abounding” as a place where “diagnostic assessment and differentiated teaching within the framework of learning progressions”occurs.
So what does this mean?
Any teacher trained within the last 20 years has at the cornerstone of his/her practice the ability to diagnose their students’ skills and understanding across all parts of the curriculum. Every teacher is obliged to know deeply the strengths and weaknesses of each student. Armed with this intimate knowledge, this same teacher has at his/her disposal the necessary pedagogical skills to ensure a differentiated curriculum is delivered equitably across the classroom.
Key to attaining this information is the role of “formative assessment”. Such assessment can take place in many and varied guises and is definitely not restricted to a one size fits all standardised test like NAPLAN. It informs the teacher of the student’s needs across a particular topic and, indeed, becomes an integral part of the learning cycle that any good teacher will employ in his/her lesson planning and classroom practice.
Gonski 2.0 presents these proposals as some revolutionary concept, yet they are already accepted practice within the teaching fraternity.
A continuum for funding
The last part of the motherhood statement – “the framework of learning progressions” – is also nothing new to teachers. It is the criterion-based analysis of the development of a child’s skills, understanding and knowledge of a topic and its application. It is the map or matrix along which a learner progresses. And like all maps it shows the entirety of a learning area and where each individual is currently located. It provides information on both attainment and future direction.
Currently, teachers work in reference to another similar matrix known as the Continuums for Learning for both Mathematics and English. These provide direct evidence of progressions of learning for each individual and a future direction for their learning. It helps both the student and teacher to map pathways to successful learning in what is a mostly linear fashion.
The proposed “framework of learning progressions” claims not to be a linear process for the learner. This is somewhat misleading. The pathway for a learner may not be straight but the map for learning suggests at least a connection of reference points all joined by lines of learnt development. Lets call it a series of linear progressions.
Once again, this supposed ground-breaking proposal in Gonski 2.0, while slightly tweaked from its current form, is also unoriginal in concept.
A mechanical numeric-driven approach
However, the most concerning element within Gonski 2.0 is the over-arching demand and centralised control for measurement and data collection. Again, recording results is an age-old custom employed by teachers to help understand their children and to enable empirical reporting. Gonski 2.0 proposes to brand each child with a number – a Unique Student Identifier [USI]. It will travel with the child from the start to finish of their school career.
For it to be validly maintained, an inordinate amount of measuring and recording will be needed. To assist the teacher with all this assessment, there will be a “new online and on demand student learning assessment tool”. Effectively, it will be a one-stop shop software program that will literally provide assessable tasks and activities to suit each student’s needs based upon the data that is entered into each student’s USI. I fear that the ease with which this is made accessible to teachers, will result in worksheet upon worksheet spewing forth to make lazy teaching endemic!
It all sounds so simple, rational and streamlined. It’s as if it had been designed by an accountant. Well perhaps it was.
It opens up the whole debate about what role the teacher plays in a child’s education. This centralised and heavily prescribed process will ease the teacher’s burden of having to think and create for him/herself. The teacher will become a mere facilitator to the child’s learning and one’s intuitive and highly trained judgement will be subverted as they develop an undue dependence on this “online and on demand student learning assessment tool”. The creative spirit, as ought to be modelled by a classroom teacher, will disappear as will their autonomy to teach and individualise their classroom practices.
Gonski 2.0 is a sausage-factory solution to education.
Children will be known by their numbers and graphs as measured constantly in a data-driven education system allowing minimal creative input from the teachers. Parent-driven anxiety about where their child sits on this “learning progression” matrix will shift to over-drive and adolescent mental health will plummet.
If the role of education is to create lifelong learners who will bring creative, critical thinking and collaborative capabilities to their lives as they interact with the big wide world, well, this mechanical, numeric-driven approach is going the wrong way.
Where is the child in all this?
Paul Johnson is a 54 year old primary school teacher. He doesn’t wish to put the boot into the profession but has read Gonski 2.0 and, having considered the latest plan for education in Australia, is unimpressed.
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