I love that skit in the Life of Brian (1979); “I am an individual”, repeats everyone in the crowd except for one lone voice, Brian, “no I’m not!”

Countries such as Australia are striving for a homogenous learning experience for all their students (Zhao, 2012). They are doing this by creating a national curriculum that sets rigorous requirements for student attainment which measure up to those in the highest performing countries in the world (UK Department of Education, 2011; Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, 2010; Ministry of Education NZ, 2010; cited in Zhao, 2012). This, coupled with high stakes standardised testing such as NAPLAN and PISA, suggests that many countries have a misplaced ‘same as’ mentality: they all want to be like the highest performing country. For example, Australia’s goal is to be ranked in the top five performing education systems in the world by 2025, measured how; by PISA it would seem.  http://buypregabalin.com/

Surely we should celebrate and capitalise on our differences. If each country creates a homogenous learning experience for their students measured by the same standardised testing to “compete successfully in the global economy” what impact will it have on diversity and competitive edge? Every country will become like Woolworths, each one exactly the same, effectively destroying choice, creativity and innovation.

What is interesting as our country laments our further fall in the PISA rankings is that Finland, the country that has always been regarded as the holy grail of education, has also been slipping in the rankings, over taken by the Eastern countries: Shanghai, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Taiwan. Finland is now ranked 12th. I wonder what is being reported by their media? Are they in crisis mode, lamenting their failings, or are they confident in their identity and ability, happy to be an individual?buylyrica.net

What is even more interesting is the ranking of Australian students’ entrepreneurial capabilities. As a country we outrank most on this measure. Yet this result isn’t reported and celebrated, we instead lament the perception of our failing ability to read and add up.

The World Economic Forum (2012) states that entrepreneurship has never been as important as it is today when the world is confronted with big challenges that extend well beyond the global economy. Also interesting is that the higher a country’s PISA results, the lower their entrepreneurial capacity, or their ability to innovate and solve complex problems. Are we capitalising on our advantage?

Eminent Harvard historian Niall Ferguson (2013) has recently postulated that we are seeing the ‘degeneration of Western civilisation’. Ferguson’s thesis argues that the West’s four primary institutions that accounted for its success over the past 500 years (democracy; capitalism; the rule of law; and civil society) are deteriorating, resulting in the catching up of everyone else (the East has certainly overtaken the West in PISA measures).

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Education can powerfully impact each of these four institutions but none more so than the fourth, civil society; particularly if we believe that education is not just about economic benefit, but also for the transmission of culture, values and beliefs, and “the creation of confident, creative individuals, and active and informed citizens” (Goal 2, Melbourne Declaration on Education, 2008, p.8). Ferguson demonstrates that once most Western citizens willingly donated their time and money to worthy causes and charities and flocked to join associations that promoted both civic-feeling and the public good. Now citizens largely hide behind their computer screens, gratifying their own self interests, palming the responsibility for the less fortunately onto the government, or worse still, selfishly ignoring their needs altogether.

What is the point of being able to compete in a global economy if we don’t live in a civil society? Does each country follow the same path of creating a homogenous learning experience for their students just so they can equal, or better the other’s PISA results, while right under their noses the very fabric of their society degenerates? Did we learn anything as a consequence of the collapse of the Lehman Brothers, sub-prime lending and the ensuing Global Financial Crisis–didn’t that happen because of a pursuit of economic growth and greedy ambition? For Ferguson, unless we reverse the current deterioration of our institutions, we can expect our stagnation to continue (and we also run the risk of having our societies crash outright).

I am not suggesting that education isn’t about developing in our students complex mathematical, scientific and communication skills. But Zhao (2012) suggests that the subjects that carry the most stakes for students and schools are the ones that receive the most attention and resources, such as those that have high stakes standardised testing attached to them. Other subjects and educational programs become peripheral and disposable.

Rather than having a ‘same as’ approach, some courageous and visionary leadership is required from our policy makers to demonstrate a broader, richer value for education: an education that creates a niche market of country, diversifying what we have to offer and reversing the current deterioration of the institutions that have made the West so successful up until now.

If we are to continue with our obsession with standardised testing perhaps policy makers should be requiring schools to report on the MySchool website other measures that complement NAPLAN. For example: how many hours of community service students give; how much money is raised by schools for charity; what values and attitudes have been instilled; and what the creative, problem solving and entrepreneurial capacities of the students are?

Which education is worth having and will allow us to compete in a global economy? Is it the same education that Shanghai is providing or is it something different? Are we going with the crowd or will we be an individual like Brian?

 

Ferguson, N. (2013). The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die. Penguin Press.

MCEETYA. (2008). Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians. Retrieved December 26, 2013 from http://www.mceecdya.edu.au/verve/_resources/national_declaration_on_the_educational_goals_for_young_australians.pdf

World Economic Forum. (2012). Education. Retrieved January 14, 2012, from http://www.weforum.org/issues/education

Zhao, Y. (2012). World Class Learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

 

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