Tuesday, 1 November 2011

letter to Queensland

I wrote this at the request of Queensland's Courier-Mail - they duly published it, with much else on learning spaces too.


Having just enjoyed a remarkable day of conversation and creative energy at the State Library of Queensland, focussed on your future learning, I reflected overnight on the remarkable potential that you have to change your own destiny statewide, and the world's too. That doesn't happen very often.

The coincidence of several unique moments has thrown up a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Queensland, as I know many of you have already reflected:

Firstly, next year is the 100 year anniversary of secondary education in Queensland, a chance to be proud of the progress in that first 100 years, but also to look forward to the potential of the next.

Secondly, you have some exceptional young teachers: they entered the profession in times of full employment - with your healthy state economy they could have done anything they wished, but they still chose to teach. Alongside them stand a near-retired group of wise old owls (if I can so characterise them!) approaching retirement but with a robust track record of making change happen, and of coping with change; their careers have been necessarily agile. The combination of these two groups, working alongside each other will only be with us for another decade - they are a remarkable asset going forwards.

Thirdly, you face significant changes in the Australian National Curriculum (ACARA), with an increasingly standardised set of tests. This tested new approach won't last of course - the research evidence is damning about high stakes testing - but it does provide yet another reason to review existing practice today. 2012 will be very different to 2002, or even 2022.

Fourthly, the transition of Year Seven into Secondary School is a substantial change - and in a world where playful learning is finally seen to be effective and appropriate, a key challenge will be to retain the playful, autonomous learning from the early years into the secondary years and beyond.

All this offers clear enough opportunities - and good reasons - to explore alternative ways to teach and learn, but there are further drivers of change too: the new technologies in your students' pockets and hands; the plea from employers for new employees that are comfortable with ambiguity, are team players, have ingenuity; the 24/7 connectivity of our world; tightening finances... and more. This perfect storm of progress is inevitably sweeping away the old factory schools of the last century, but it also provides a unique opportunity to shape what comes next. All around the world teachers and schools are discovering, researching and sharing the new approaches that make learning more engaging and extraordinarily effective. Some of what they have discovered is counter intuitive, not all of it will suit yourselves, but it is now so easy to reach out to borrow from their tested ingredients to assemble a Queensland recipe that is as world class, and as noticed, as your state library. Inevitably, your future world class learning will look as different as your new library did.

None of this needs to be expensive though. New approches by and large can be very affordable - are often actually cheaper - and do need to be. It is my simple belief that a world riven by strife can be healed with better learning. Like many of you, I've seen children inoculated against poverty with learning, seen how children who learn together emerge with understanding ahead of hatred. The model you evolve from your unique opportunities will need to be affordable so that others less fortunate might follow your lead. Change, but change cheaply.

The hardest thing to do, with change, is to begin. Circumstances had already begun that change for you. My note here is simply to confirm what many of you are already saying - that here is a unique chance to make the world sit up and take notice, and to mend that world a little too.

Professor Stephen Heppell
Bournemouth University, England
Universidad Camilo José Cela, Madrid.