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Revolutionary change in education

By Valerie Yule - posted Wednesday, 20 February 2008


Kevin Rudd’s “Revolution in Education” may require another revolution in education in order to succeed - a revolution in “how”. Rudd stresses that long term prosperity and productivity growth depend upon education being treated as investment in human capital. His “education revolution” is in “the quantum of our investment and in the quality of our education outcomes” in “learning, earning, creativity and innovation”. So his government will spend more in financial investment, with longer schooling and more training.

But innovation and enterprise is needed in education itself.

A revolution is a drastic and far-reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving. Is a revolution needed in Australian educational methods? Yes. Look at the adults who come out the other end.

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The top ranks that graduate from the Australian education system are informed and competent citizens, prepared for the challenges ahead. The middle are unable to fulfil their full potential. The lower ranks are a burden on our welfare, health and judicial systems. Two thirds of our “human capital” do not have satisfying lives. An education revolution is most needed for the masses at the bottom.

This lost “human capital” needs opportunities for self-help; visions of what may be possible; no more scandalously disrupted classrooms; a reduction in their formidable barriers to literacy; and simple but sweeping changes in common practices in childrearing and housing that confine children’s minds and bodies. Print literacy, in particular, needs the most revolutionary and innovatory attention, and receives it here.

Print literacy is a basic educational advantage, despite all that is being written (sic!) about its obsolescence. B.O.O.K.s are Bodies of Organised Knowledge, complemented but not replaced, by visuals and other multiliteracies. Everyone should have the right to free access to literacy, at any time, in any way that may help them, regardless of distance or disadvantages or ability to pay. Yet observation shows that most adults do not read accurately or thoughtfully.

All children without exception need to be given a flying start to literacy through lullabies sung to babies, adults talking with their babies even in public, story-telling, children’s radio programs to develop language and thinking in a way that television fails them, wonderful illustrated books such as Arthur Mee’s beautiful Children's Encyclopedia and learning through free play. Only the radio programs would be costly to get this cultural change percolating everywhere.

Let’s have free-to-air and publicised Open Primary School and Open Secondary school in prime-time, and Open University at midnight. The focus on formal schooling overlooks that most learning is done outside classrooms. Everyone, not only the thousands who miss out on inspiring classrooms, could enjoy online and apprenticeship opportunities for self-help in learning, and it would facilitate teachers in schools with documentaries using a diversity of brilliant teachers and wonderful classrooms (not just Horrordale High).

Opportunities should always be available for self-help in literacy and preventing and removing confusions. For example, an experimental and unique online half-hour cartoon video overview could be openly trialled, without present prejudice, and other versions produced for the range of different abilities and needs.

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Any barriers will cause most difficulty for those already disadvantaged. Barriers made by common practices in beginners’ classrooms only need teachers’ awareness of them to be removable.

Learning to read easily should not require an above average endowment of auditory or visual rote memory plus an element of clever guessing - as are required by phonics and whole language methods respectively, because English spelling is so unnecessarily unpredictable.

Spelling is a tecnology for communication and should not remain a social screening test or a minefield to keep down those less privileged. Beginners at least could start without spelling traps. (Only 6 per cent of letters need to be droppd or changed - Revolutionary!) From a beginners’ sound-simbol dictionary key, consistent spelling principls can be bilt up. Experiments can be made with cribs in reading books and popular periodicals, “ritten in spelling without traps”. Teachers can lern mor about riting sistems and how thay change, to understand the sistem thay teach.

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About the Author

Valerie Yule is a writer and researcher on imagination, literacy and social issues.

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