The argument seems all too easy: plough more money into public education and the quality will improve. Students will have more access to infrastructure – books, computers, new gymnasiums. More teachers will be employed.
While Australian schools certainly merit more public funding, the current debate about dollars has a significant downside. And it is this. By talking only about what is wrong with the system, we fail to set out what is possible and desirable. We may even ignore what it is that we need if Australia is to be a player in the 21st
Quality education isn’t always correlated with the quantity of money available. Scarcity – even adversity – can sometimes give rise to ingenuity and an innovative and more valuable education.
This is not to suggest that our schools should be starved of funds on the grounds that it might be good for them (though some politicians clearly find this a tempting line of argument). But it is to claim that some of the best endowed and most privileged institutions, can become so set in their ways, so rigidly conformist to old
standards, that they may fail to provide their students with the dynamic and empowering - and modern - education that is a basic in these changing times.
On the international scene, Australian schools do not enjoy world class status (as many politicians and educational professionals continue to proclaim). But we do have some extraordinary good schools in the public sector which are leading the way in providing their students with the skills they will need in today’s ever changing
Yet schools like these are not well known. Nor are they schools that have the benefit of endowments or blue ribbon real estate. Rather, they are schools that have adopted creative thinking and innovation as their yard sticks for success.
Take Woodcrest College in Springfield as an example. Less than three years old, this P-12 government school is on the outskirts of Ipswich near Brisbane and is part of the new Delfin housing estate. All homes on the Delfin estate come complete with a PC and Internet access. Homeowners in Springfield are wired.
This means that for most families in the school's catchment area, the Internet is just a normal part of daily life. For children growing up on this housing estate, doing things digitally - and this may mean anything from games to e-learning to email, chat and web browsing - is just how the world works.
The same is true for the school itself, where the integration of technology into all aspects of learning has resulted in radical changes in the way learning is undertaken, and in how the school is run.
For example at Woodcrest there is no regimented timetable. This means that learning is continuous. The shift from print to screen enables students to experience learning as a normal part of life. It is not something that you do only for set times in set classes and on set days.
This means that students themselves can become sophisticated knowledge makers. Students at Woodcrest seem to be among the first in the world to understand that it is not enough to learn what is already known.
In fact, these students have been made aware that to survive in the new knowledge economy, they must know how to make knowledge products. For in order to sell your knowledge – your Intellectual Property - you need to come up with new ideas, solutions and know-how.
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