I loved the book review process – the actual reviewing of the book. Writing it all up was less pleasurable and like many of us I thought I wouldn’t make it. This side of submission, the pain was worth it. I particularly enjoyed the whole concept of rethinking learning, rethinking and challenging current systems and ways we teach by enfolding current alternates and new ideas.
The big new adventure for me was to work with ebooks. I’ve never had any before, but they made purchasing the texts so cheap and quick! I know, I know, there’s lots of issues around kindle etc. I don’t think I’d like to read novels in electronic form. But for the sheer ease and transportability, it was wonderful.
So here ’tis…
The Global Education Leaders’ Program Innovation unit (2013) Redesigning education: Shaping learning systems around the globe, Booktrope editions[Kindle Digital Version] from http://www.amazon.com.au
Schools are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning Education 3.0
The Global Education Leaders Program’s (GELP) publication Redesigning education: Shaping learning systems around the world is a bold attempt to direct discussions on how we not only lead reform in education, but bring about systemic, global transformation. GELP is a social enterprise comprised of key education system leaders, policy-makers and consultants collaborating to reinvent education at local, national and international levels (GELP 2015). Their concerns reflect that of international bodies such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), and World Economic Forum (WEF). All see education as the fundamental transformative power in the global community, especially for emerging economies. GELP’s publication primarily targets system and school leaders, policy makers, education experts and advocates as it tackles 21st century learning – or “Education 3.0”. The book addresses the challenges raised by the seismic shifts in society – globalisation, demographic shift and the technological revolution (Davies, Fidler & Gorbis 2011, We are Social, 2015). But despite widespread interest, education innovation has been unevenly distributed, and whole-scale educational reform has never been successful (eg Fullan 2011, Cuban 2013 & 2015, Heppell 2012, Siemens 2004). GELP claims that schooling systems are notoriously conservative, but counters this by exploding myths surrounding reform implementation, and proposes models, principles and practices to overcome these barriers. Firstly, building vision for change, and mobilising capacity through training, and creating “nested communities” for collaboration within and across learning communities to scale up the restructuring. Finally, it emphasises engaging with the community to create a social movement that pressures relevant authorising bodies. But no matter how idealistic the aims of the book, it claims to be “rooted in practice” (GELP Intro).
The key ideas and challenges explored through the text are
- The need to engage new players to challenge and enliven traditional education
- Using design principles to actualise powerful 21st century learning and better learning experiences
- Scaling and diffusing innovation within and through systems
- Transforming systems and creating transformational leadership (GELP 2013)
This book sits at the nexus of two sub-genres of education publications regarding the future of learning. Firstly, whilst GELP draws on their findings, it sets itself apart from “school improvement” models such as Fullan’s early works (eg 1992), pedagogically-driven works (eg Hattie 2008; McTighe & Wiggins 2005; Claxton 2008; Thomas & Brown 2011 ), and approaches such as Harvard’s Project Zero (Ritchart, Church & Morrison 2011). The changes these groups propose are largely pedagogical and endogenous – transformation within the current system and structures to improve learning and better equip students. GELP looks beyond what happens in classrooms, to transform education globally– and this concept is the dominant paradigm of the text. To succeed where previous reforms have failed, GELP probes much more widely than the educational field, drawing on innovation in a range of arenas and industries. In particular, it appropriates Christensen’s disruptive innovation theory (1997, 2011), whereby it’s the outliers, those who draw in previous non-consumers, who can reinvigorate by exploiting new markets and approaches. Redesigning education is ambitious, as it aims to not only change schools in affluent societies, but be employed by schooling systems in developing countries.
The other style of educational work influencing the text focusses more broadly on exogenous change. The work of educators such as Heppell (2007, 2012) Leadbeater (2012), Wagner (2008, 2012) Zhao (2013) and Fullan’s more recent work (eg 2011, 2013a, 2013b), as well as futures-focussed studies by the OECD (eg 2010, 2012), WISE (Dumont et.at 2010, Brown-Martin 2015) and WEF (2009). These are more comprehensive attempts to use innovation and design principles to reinvent the structures of schooling, including the environments and the relationships between those offering learning experiences, governments and learners within their community. GELP’s work is risky here – they look to transform education globally by developing not only tools, but creating networks and communities that reach across economic and cultural barriers. But, as they acknowledge, this area is weak in terms of research basis for holistic planning and prior examples of success (chap.3). To support their case, they reference schools working in partnership with GELP, and use this anecdotal evidence to provide some confirmation for their model.
Structurally, the book moves from a comprehensive overview of the issues, by setting out principles that both underpin 21st century learning, and follow this by outlining their 16-element “Roadmap” for transformation. The Roadmap, however, is less prescriptive than it sounds. Although it advocates that the various elements must be all employed, it clearly states that the order and process should be contextually responsive (chap 5), and the examples of schools and systems support this. It would have been helpful for readers to have been directed more explicitly to the project’s website (GELP 2015), which includes extra resources and research updates that further amplifies the versatility of the system. Whilst in the eBook version the footnotes were hyperlinked, and there were some url’s included in the chapter endnotes, it could have been more seamlessly embedded. If part of GELP’s goal is to apply Web 3.0 principles, then employing a more flexible book design would have endorsed their repudiation of entrenched 20th century structures. A more coherent example of this is Wagner’s new eBook version of Creating innovators (2012) – it utilises embedded QR tags and url’s into the body of the text.
The text explores the realities of how and why systemic change is problematic and complex. It reinforces the complicated relationships involved, by drawing on Moore’s work (1995) on the triangular interplay between the authorising environment, the value propositions of the change and the operational capacity to enact it (chap.7). It repeatedly reinforces that innovation agendas are consequently fraught. GELP’s Roadmap has the potential to work because it supports plurality in innovation, and values contextual responsiveness. Firstly, 10 elements are generic to any system change – as noted, GELP has turned to a range of other industries and organisations such as health and business; secondly three elements are specifically educational– curriculum, pedagogy and assessment; finally, three innovative aspects – the non-linear process of designing and iterating that again, are not education-specific. This is reinforced by GELP’s unique “split-screen” approach to managing transformation – bridging the gap between present realities coinciding with redesigning the future system. They recognise the importance of having this dual approach to both keep the current system meeting needs of students, whilst at the same time working towards the new. GELP claims both evolution and revolution are needed (GELP chap.3); few books deal adequately with this tension.
Reimagining the role of government is a core aspect of GELP’s future world of education. Instead of driving and mandating educational reforms, they should become the platform that provides opportunities, structures and frameworks for a growing group of organisations to build their schools and systems upon. As Fullan (2011) and others have noted (eg Cuban 2015, Jenkins 2013), too frequently governments and systems choose the wrong drivers for change – using accountability and standardised assessment or technology roll-outs. But these methods tend to push teachers and schools towards superficial compliance, rather than embedding new practices and coaching towards enduring transformation (Mourshed et al 2010, Fullan & Crevola 2013, Tyre 2015). In GELP’s view governments will no longer be the primary provider. Their role is to attract new groups to take part in building systems – primarily philanthropists, for-profit organisations and entrepreneurs – to break through conventional difficulties encountered. This directly challenges traditional approaches to education that focus on the primacy of public education, and these arguments are carefully countered. The research work of Leadbeater (2012, also Leadbeater & Wong 2010) and Heppell (2004, 2012) are crucial, highlighting how the “extremes” can shape future constructs of education. Similarly, by exploring some of the current “alternate schooling” systems within western democracies, and how they are succeeding with disenfranchised learners, GELP presents mechanisms to make learning more engaging for all learners. GELP’s Education 3.0 seeks to enfold their techniques, as well as endorsing them, as this is central to devolving monolithic schooling structures. Furthermore, endorsing emerging models around blended and connected learning (Siemens, 2004, Ito et al 2013), and utilising the power of technology facilitates the dismantling of the “four walls” concept of learning (Heppell 2007) to create a more responsive education paradigm.
The text engages with a broader societal debate – whilst technology has the capacity to accelerate transformation, it is seen as a central aspect of infrastructure to enable learning, rather than an end in itself (Horn 2013, Tyre 2015, Cuban 2015, Candler 2015). Technology-fuelled education can be more accessible, more equitable and more accelerated, but Education 3.0 is about a broader set of student skills such as creative thinking, problem-solving, metacognition, and collaboration that can be placed at the heart of school transformation in developed and emerging countries alike, utilising principles such as personalised learning and real-world applicability. Making learning personal – having deep relationship between teachers and students is a core component of their learning principles. GELP are certainly not the first to explore the contested role of technology in leveraging change (eg Cuban 2001, 2015, Sheninger 2014, Collins & Halverston 2009, Ertmer 2005, Horn 2013), however, they do denote, like many others (We are social 2015, that it has a ubiquitous role in changing the nature of our society.
The text finishes by highlighting the primacy of people as change agents. Firstly, the leaders and the values that should shape them. Current leadership ideals have been too individualistic, and that for systemic transformation there needs to be a systemic approach to developing leaders (Fullan 2013b, Hopkins 2007). GELP’s expectations of leaders’ skill-set is daunting, but is contextualised by the incipient power of collaboration for leverage. Finally, at the core are the teachers – significant emphasis is placed on targeted training, motivation and involvement. This again, matches broader discussion around change management in education – without comprehensive retraining of teachers, significant changes will not be widespread or lasting (OECD 2011, Jensen & Reichl 2011)
The book is brutal at times in its honesty, to the point where the average teacher may feel overwhelmed. In the hands of leaders and those truly seeking new directions ahead, this rectitude is helpful. The complexity of the Roadmap system similarly, is somewhat daunting. In its scrupulous approach, it highlights both the time transformation will take, as well as it labyrinthine nature. Certainly, other contemporary texts such offer much more simplistic processes (eg Lengel 2013, Collins & Halverston 2009). Perhaps their vision is not quite so grand. And herein lies the real strength of this book – its dream to transform educational systems globally, but by working contextually. Whilst the methodologies are sound, as they have been tested in other industries, the GELP team acknowledge they are unable to “prove” that they will be successful in education, simply that this is the best chance. To that end, there is no “conclusion”; just a promise that GELP will continue to pursue an “exciting learning future for the next generation” (GELP chap.7)
The book has a grand vision to transform education. It proposes a series of principles and models based on a broad body of research, including that of partner schools and systems in their endeavour. Its grasp of the imperative to transform education to more effectively engage learners and communities in Education 3.0, is impressive. However, its honesty and the ambiguity inherent in its process is also what might ultimately dishearten the average teacher or leader. If nothing else, it makes leaders realise that collaboration, one of the central underpinnings of 21st century learning, is essential for education systems and schools as well as our students. It is this focus on people – the leaders, the teacher and communities of learners – that validates its thesis. As Fullan has said, without carefully managing the change by inspiring and equipping the key people who must implement it, it is all pointless.
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