Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Immediate Future of Tasmanian Education

Understanding the current window of opportunity
We are in a period of rapid transition and the critical changes are not being chosen, managed or designed or even predictable - they are simply emerging. So an understanding of complexity will prove to be critical.
The old idea of a system as Input-Process-Output is very much alive but not at all well.  That is, this notion is working less and less well as our world becomes more complex, interactive, uncertain and unpredictable.
Many aspects of our daily experience have elements that are at the 'edge of chaos'. While some people may be in charge, no-one is really in control of literacy, numeracy, retention, behaviour... and other critical matters. Still we have to respond and how we respond to these conditions determines our ongoing success or otherwise.
Some key emerging concepts to consider
  • A system is network of people, tools, policies, facilities, arrangements... that interact with some coherence
  • And what is basic (literacy, numeracy...) is often not simple.
  • In complex situations consistency is more meaningful that uniformity
  • Knowledge, actions and arrangements are continually constructed and reconstructed in everyday interactions (mainly conversations)
So many of the Tasmania education initiatives of recent years have proven to be disruptive and counter productive. While the thinking behind the individual initiatives has often be sound, their effect has been disruptive to other initiatives and thus reduced the overall coherence within the system. Consider the following examples:
  • SARIS fatally disrupted the ELs and all local reporting arrangements - the ELs were no longer coherent in the light of the SARIS
  • By defining the outputs (in effect, selecting the inputs) SARIS has also made significant curriculum development and implementation since the ELs virtually impossible
  • The national curriculum is very likely continue this process
  • The MySchool website is having similar effects
  • And many experienced Tasmania Tomorrow as very much less than coherent, especially in terms of its stated aims (retention) and the basis for its structure.
It is interesting that SARIS, the National Curriculum, MySchool... are all strategies based on Input-Process-Output assumptions and they also assume that that uniformity is possible and meaningful.
Increasingly leadership will require very different thinking, starting now. The "edge of chaos" phenomenon is not always bad. It can represent a condition in which significant system change can be achieved very easily and quickly. Thus, a new government and new Minister represent a window of opportunity that will be open for at least the immediate future. The responses made may keep the window open or slam it shut. 

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