Our future is being created now, educators and families are responding

2021 (not to mention 2019 and 2020) has given us much to reflect on.

Many parents are turning those learnings and insights into real action for the future of their families, children, and our wider community; those at the levers of our education system would be wise to take note.

I recently attended the online launch of Professor Gert Biesta’s book, A World-Centred Education. A View for the Present.[1]  Biesta is a Professor of Public Education in the Centre for Public Education and Pedagogy, Maynooth University, Ireland, and Professor of Educational Theory and Pedagogy at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

I admire his work greatly and came to the event with my own reflections of this time in human history brewing in my mind. Biesta offers a global view of what many are thinking and feeling at a local level.

Biesta urges us to slow down and move away from the limitations of our “impulse society” one that is built on the logic of instant gratification, a society that no longer has the time – for the time it takes, to truly educate a child (and perhaps ourselves).

Biesta acknowledges that no one is intentionally trying to make education worse, and we all want improvement. However, ‘what counts as improvement and meaningful ways of achieving it, vary widely’ (Biesta, 2021, p. 2).  The fact is, education is increasingly entangled with politics[2], and beholden to the ‘global education measurement industry’ which has a big say on the direction and focus of education (Biesta, 2021, p.1).

Teachers and schools are under relentless pressure to increase student test scores, but how does this prepare our young people for the uncertainty and rapid change of the future we see coming?

These scores offer a news headline,  and to a degree satisfy the needs of busy parents needing to know how well their children are doing, but do little to build the known and unknown skills of our future world.

But… let’s not be too focussed on or overwhelmed by this sense of our uneasy future. The great challenges of our human existence remain constant and embedded in our now – how we care for one another, the vulnerable, how we look after our world, distribute resources equitably and live together peacefully.

As Biesta states, ‘education needs to take place in the here and now’ and it is about how human beings exist in and with the natural and social world, with the agency to make a difference. That should be the main concern and driver of our educational focus (Biesta, 2021).

If those values and learnings are central to our today, our tomorrow is built on strong foundations.

As this challenging year of home-based learning comes to a close, parents aren’t wasting any time constructing a framework for their children’s education based on the reflections and observations of the past 12 to 18 months.

As classroom learning returns, alternative education models, such as those offered at Steiner-based schools, are seeing an increase in interest and enrolments as families look to build on their children’s Covid learning experience.

Steiner schools have seen the biggest increase in enrolments nationally since records began in 2004 and new schools starting in Queensland in 2022.

Biesta’s book and commentary endorse the change we are seeing.

At his book launch, Biesta was asked ‘had he ever seen world centred education in practice?’

Biesta paused for a moment to consider his response, to my delight, Steiner education was his answer, capturing echoes of Rudolf Steiner himself, ‘If a child has been able to play, to give up their whole living being to the world around them, they will be able to, in the serious tasks of later life, devote themselves with confidence and power to the service of the world.’ Steiner said.

The results of research funded by Steiner Education Australia which looks at outcomes of Steiner school graduates will be released shortly and will offer insights on the impacts of Steiner education, contributing to broad discussions on educational purpose.

The findings from the graduate outcomes research have affirmed that Steiner education has supported graduates and alumni to be imaginative, interested in their world and creative in their careers and personal lives, influenced commitment to the environment, social justice matters, and capacity to make ethical decisions. Steiner graduates have the knowledge and skills to enable them to act in the world[3]

Our research shows that educators are drawn to a purpose centred on service of the child and an educational model that allows children to be themselves, to work positively and harmoniously within the community, to be of service to the world, and support the evolution and renewal of humanity and our world.

This research and the emboldened ambitions of parents and educators should drive our post-pandemic renewal and, I hope, influence the political campaigns and policy discussions to come in 2022.

Rich, full lives connected to the world beyond our classrooms should guide our educational structures. Thank you Professor Gert Biesta for adding your weight to this discussion and inspiring the advocacy of parents, families, and educators like those of us at Steiner Education Australia.

 

[1] Biesta, G. (2021). World-Centred Education: A View for the Present. Routledge.

[2] For example, see the obvious political intent behind Minister Tudge’s attack on the proposed ACARA changes to the History curriculum, calling for a ‘positive, optimistic view of Australian history’ https://www.aare.edu.au/blog/?p=10987

[3] Haralambous B., & Carey,M.( 2021). Australian Steiner Graduate Outcomes. Research Project Report. Chatswood: Steiner Education Australia

Nov 2021