New Zealand-Greg Bruce: It’s time to make school fun again
New Zealand/April 17, 2023/By: Greg Bruce/Source: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/
Last week, I went inside New Zealand’s education system. Recent reports had given me some idea of what I might find: Teachers holding their fingers to the wind, hoping lesson plans would fly out of the Beehive and stick to them, pupils dancing around bonfires on to which they were throwing the books they’re unable to read, parents wailing at the realisation their children will never be smart enough to lead the Act party. Based on recent rhetoric, I half-expected to emerge from my experience semi-literate, unemployable and unable to do basic maths.
It’s common knowledge that the education system is much, much worse for kids now than it was back in the good old days when we learned important things like Latin and the Bible and were regularly caned for failing to memorise the first 400 lines of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I wasn’t disputing any of that, necessarily, but I did want to know why — I wanted to see first-hand the garbage fire of modern education and the damage it’s doing to our children.
I entered the large suburban Auckland primary school at 5.45pm, and left at 7.15pm. In that 90 minutes, I attended three separate student-led conferences, conducted by children aged 6, 7 and 9. At each conference, the children showed me the work they have done so far this year and answered my many questions about their learning processes, mostly with the phrase, “Daddy! I said stop talking!” The children’s teachers circulated and offered insights into the learning processes of the class in general and those of my children specifically.
I had been hoping to hear first-hand about the transformative teaching methods that have ruined children’s brains, that have seen proper lessons replaced with hours spent playing politically correct games in which there are no winners, and only one loser: Our country. So I was disappointed and frankly bored when my kids instead showed me endless pages of school workbooks filled with graphs and equations, worthy, long-winded summaries they’d written about whatever stories they’d been reading, and blow-by-blow, misspelt and often factually incorrect stories about what they’d done in the weekend. Some of their work was accompanied by drawings, which, as far as I could tell, would be of zero benefit when it came time for them to enter the labour market.
The idea that the education system is broken because we’ve drifted away from “proper learning” is obviously attractive, because politicians always bring it up in election years, but if that’s true, why have those of us who had proper learning allowed the world to catch fire? If education used to be so great, why have its human outputs created, funded and participated in making the world’s most valuable companies into agents of division and disinformation that have damaged democracy and destabilised societies worldwide? Why have we allowed houses to become so unaffordable that home ownership for our kids is a pointless dream?
Ruth Boyask and her colleagues in the education department at AUT have been doing extensive research into this, particularly in the field of reading, asking why kids are reading less and failing to meet expectations when it comes to reading comprehension. What they’ve found is that the reasons are complex and go far beyond what happens at school. One important issue they’ve identified, which is almost never talked about, is that kids are enjoying reading less.
Enjoyment! Yes! What a revelation! Why does the media-political discourse around school never concern itself with this obvious idea? Of course, children will be more engaged and better able to learn when they’re enjoying themselves. Instead, the focus is always on boring edicts about imposing boring and arbitrary measurements (“Three hours a day of reading, writing and maths!”), as if burying joy under a pile of ticked boxes is going to fix everything.
As Boyask says: “It seems pretty self-evident that enjoyment of reading motivates more reading, and that reading is more enjoyable when what is read and learned from reading are pleasures shared with others. If this simple principle lay at the heart of our education system, we’d see teachers supported by politicians, the media, and other communities to raise the reading enjoyment quotient of schools.”
Yes! Bring on the enjoyment revolution! Make School Fun Again! (for the first time). Maybe it’s too late to save the world from the damage visited on it by those of us who learned in black and white, but if kids are going to inherit the hell on earth we’ve created for them, the least we can do is let them have some fun first.
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