Shifting the paradigm around what it means to learn

Shifting the paradigm around what it means to learn

Australian classrooms have changed a lot in the past decade. From pen and paper to students using laptops and ipads; and researching from an encyclopedia to scouring the internet for assignments, the tools we’re using to learn looking very different.

Yet while the tools have changed, for the most part the way we teach young people hasn’t.

Meanwhile, the world outside the classroom is changing rapidly. Young people need more than knowledge and basic skills to thrive in today’s complex global community. The Foundation for Young Australians’ (FYA) New Basics report shows they need enterprise capabilities and skills like creativity, communication, problem solving, digital and financial literacy to succeed.

Some young people are already being left behind. FYA’s Renewing Australia’s Promise, highlights the challenges facing young job seekers in a changing world of work. With up to 30% of young people aged 15-24 unemployed or underemployed, it’s also taking them an average of 4.7 years to find a full-time job once they finish full time education.

Traditional teaching approaches, like focusing students on acing the test, are not helping young people overcome these multiple challenges. So how can we shift our approach to better prepare them for this future?

A recent pilot initiative called Paradigm Shifters: Entrepreneurial Learning in Schools led by Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, New South Wales Secondary Principals’ Council, and the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals has explored the concept of entrepreneurial learning and its benefits for students.

Mitchell Institute’s Policy Analyst, Hannah Matus and Policy Fellow, Bronwyn Hinz, said that the initiative supported school environments to use  three core principles, established by Professor Yong Zhao.

The program worked with 21 government secondary schools in New South Wales and Victoria over a 12 month period. School leadership teams (where students were key, active partners) committed to co-designing and implementing new learning approaches in their schools based on the following principles:

  • Develop more personalised education experiences, so each person can pursue passions and talents to excel in unique ways
  • Engage in creative and entrepreneurial product oriented learning experiences that can, in authentic ways, benefit local and global communities
  • Cultivate and prototype new approaches, processes and or products

Students from years 7 to 12 were involved in the initiative across a range of different classrooms from maths to history.

“The approach was that students would work together to identify an issue or opportunity within the school community. They would then work together to come up with a way to solve or change the situation. Teachers provided support, and in some instances guidance or advice – but students were in the driver’s seat.”

Participating schools were linked into a state network, which supported students and teachers to learn alongside each other through network workshops.

A key part of the initiative enabled students and teachers alike to share their perspective on the program and what advice they’d give to their peers going forward.

“Importantly students said that being in control and working with their peers to do the work helped them learn – because the focus wasn’t on content or acing a test. They felt empowered because it wasn’t just about going to school – the emphasis was on learning.”

“We found that entrepreneurial learning can help grow the capabilities that are needed for lifelong success. By identifying and solving problems, communicating ideas and taking more control of their learning, students found more relevance in their education and experienced impact that stretched beyond assessment marks.”

Entrepreneurial learning programs from preschool to PhD levels are not new – not even in Australia where uptake of initiatives like $20 Boss have been steadily increasing. But there are still significant knowledge gaps on entrepreneurial learning in Australian schooling,  because of different contexts and curriculums.

“Our system on a whole is still so geared toward competition and acing the test. Instead entrepreneurial learning focuses on not just setting young people up for success in the future but for success in the here and now.”

“We need to start recognising at a national level the potential for schools as systems changers and the role of partnerships between school and the community, in driving change.

“We also need to help create the conditions for schools to be entrepreneurial by enabling diversity and choice around learning networks, rather than mandating approaches that may limit opportunities for schools to pursue strategic partnerships and learning based on evidence of interest and need.

“In particular we need to acknowledge a broader range of data sets than is currently used to show the impact of learning, such as through developing assessments that measure the growth of students in areas beyond NAPLAN.”

You can find the full report from the Mitchell Institute here.  

Want to know more about shifting our setting young people up to thrive? Read FYA’s Enterprise Skills and Careers Education Strategy here.