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Education: are we really giving our kids the skills they need?

By Arron Wood - posted Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Everyone has an opinion on education and when adults are asked to reflect on their own time at school you can be guaranteed a very mixed response. Psychologist and multiple intelligence expert Howard Gardner tells us that those verbal linguistic learners, or those good at maths would most likely have done well at school. If however, you're more like me and are a bodily kinaesthetic learner, school would have been close to a form of torture. I literally found it tough to sit still. Perhaps today I would've been diagnosed with ADD and given medication, but back then I was simply a 'little bugger'.

In our thrust to be analytical, impartial and scientifically rigorous in our schools we may have missed the two most important facets of education. Professor Claxton a leading educator who travels the globe teaching the teachers says "The true test of a successful education is a young persons appetite to know and their capacity to learn". Unfortunately in Australia we appear to be moving more and more towards standardized testing and increasing the amount of content that needs to be taught in an already crowded curriculum.

Is education really all about standardised testing though? Do the skills necessary to do well in a standardised test really count when it comes to leadership and being a member of a cohesive community? Through our work we know that there are grade five students exhibiting the same stress symptoms as their counterparts in year 11 and 12 due to the pressures of standardised testing. And just as importantly does the way our education system works motivate people to want to know more and give them the skills to manage their own learning?


Interestingly enough the idea of too much focus on content is not a new phenomenon and Plato said many years earlier than Professor Claxton that "The educators role is not to put knowledge where knowledge does not exist, but rather to lead the minds eye so that it might see for itself". The world is changing rapidly. To teach a year 7 student all the content he or she will need to know when leaving school in 5 years time is near impossible. Again we need to focus on giving our students the skills for lifelong learning.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) has certainly had a tough time drafting the National Curriculum with the various interest groups pushing their case for inclusion in a stretched curriculum. Add to this the initial controversy around the My School Website and it has been an interesting period for Australian education. In most countries where education levels are high they are moving away from standardised testing and we need to be mindful that while seeking to raise numeracy and literacy rates we don't do this at the detriment of student wellbeing.

In answer to the need for greater focus on student development and in conjunction with my father Richard a Principal of over 30 years of experience, I designed the Kids Teaching Kids Program to provide hands on, student-centred learning to bring about a change in the way we teach and learn, and to provide greater recognition for best practice teaching.

It was originally a precursor to address the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS), but has since gone international running in every state and territory and internationally. 55,000 students and teachers have been through the program.

When designing the program initially we looked at where education was going and saw that the standards recognised the need for authentic, multidisciplinary learning and called for:

  • Greater recognition of the personal and social skills which students require
  • Greater recognition of the cross curriculum skills which students require

Inturn this gives schools greater flexibility to:

  • develop programs appropriate for local needs
  • foster deep understanding

Standards now go further to say that the community expects our children to be:

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About the Author

2007 Prime Minister’s Environmentalist of the Year Award winner Arron Wood was awarded a Churchill Fellowship taking him to New York and Geneva working with the United Nations. As winner of the United Nations Individual Award for Outstanding Service to the Environment Arron was also the 2001 Young Australian of the Year (National Environment Winner) and is currently the youngest Board Member of the Port Phillip and Westernport CMA. He has a communication and education consultancy business driven by his strong interest in getting the community involved in the environment. Arron initiated and now runs the highly successful International River Health Conference for students from around the world. Arron received The Centenary Medal for outstanding contribution to conservation and the environment, awarded by the Governor-General in 2003 and the prestigious Melbourne Award for Contribution to the Environment. Arron was selected to complete the Al Gore Climate Change Leadership Program and he is a Clean Up the World Ambassador and Clean Up Australia Board Member. His first book Inspiring the Next Young Environmental Leader has already sold 5,000 copies.

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