2 Mar 2017

'We only seem to value what we can measure'

From Nine To Noon, 9:19 am on 2 March 2017

Schools and teachers need to change the way they operate, according to British educationalist Sir John Jones.

A principal for many years in the North West of England, in a number of challenging schools, Sir John has served on a range of government policy teams, looking at truancy and exclusions.

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Sir John Jones says many education systems are 'assessment obsessed'. Photo: AFP

He’s in Auckland for an education conference and spoke to RNZ’s Kathryn Ryan about the need for teachers to pursue excellence relentlessly.

He says teachers must always improve – and the best teachers never stop striving.

“If we teach the children today the way we taught them yesterday, we deprive them of their tomorrow.”

One of Sir John’s fundamental philosophies is that education is not about answers, it’s about questions.

But he says concrete questions, to which there’s a right and a wrong answer, do not speak to people’s imaginations.

“The quality of the question that you answer will determine the quality of the learning that results as a consequence.

“The best questions of all are the ones to which there is no right or wrong answer.”

But that’s at odds with many education systems, which are ‘assessment obsessed’.

“We only seem to value what we can measure.”

Sir John says it’s time to rethink and repeal the assessment systems used in many education systems.

“In a way it’s a crisis in the system – are we preparing children to pass a test, or are we preparing them for life?

“And if we can show that yes, the test is about the kind of life skills they’re going to require in the future, then we can put our hands on our heart and say yes, by preparing them for the test we are preparing them for life.”

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Sir John Jones. Photo: supplied

Thomas Friedman’s book – The World Is Flat –talks about the need to develop creativity, ingenuity, portability and flexibility.

Sir John says they’re the kind of skills we’re all going to need to compete in the modern world, but many education systems still focus on standardisation control, conformity and compliance.

“Which, when you think about it, are almost opposed to the creativity, portability, flexibility.”

Teachers who felt they were being asked to be social workers, parents, police as well, are right, he says.

“If we do put our children at the centre of everything we do, then we listen to them and respond to the level of need they have at this very moment.

“The very best teachers will instinctively do that.”