Nurturing creative and engaged students
Evidence shows that, as learners advance through the education system, levels of engagement reduce significantly. The data from international research shows that, by upper secondary, the level of real engagement has fallen to as little as one third of students.
So how will schools meet the challenges faced in preparing young people to contribute to changes in society?
The annual conference of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, starting today and with the theme 'Promoting Creativity and Engagement', provides the opportunity to reflect on such key issues.
Dr Harold Hislop, Chief Inspector at the Department of Education and Skills, has indicated that both 'creativity and student voice' will be components to be captured in a revised quality framework for schools currently being considered in a review of 'Looking at Our Schools 2016'.
Leading educationalist Michael Fullan says the key question is how do we engage students in this current period of transformation?
Fullan believes the transformation that is occurring now is "more a shift in engaging students as change agents which involves a change in role for the teacher and engagement between the teacher and student as a learner".
Sir Ken Robinson, an international advisor on education in the arts, contends that traditional education systems have engaged in the promotion of utilitarian systems aimed at meeting the needs of industry. Industry now tells us these systems no longer meet their needs and they require creative employees who can adapt to change.
Robinson also states, "we don't grow into creativity - we grow out of it, or rather we are get educated out of it". He believes that "creativity is now as important in education as literacy".
This challenge is further elucidated by the 'Real' David Cameron, a speaker at this year's convention. He recently noted, "employers are no longer looking for compliance nor for employees who will just do a job... changing technologies, aspirations, demands and structural changes in economies mean that jobs will change, and we need workers who can adapt to that". This places challenges on education systems, which need to support students in developing new skills and "creates demand for a broad skills base, for problem solving, creativity and a willingness to engage".
The junior cycle framework, with its focus on key skills and active learning methodologies, seeks to address some of these challenges. There's also a continuing significant investment in the continuous professional development of teachers in delivery of this new framework. This training and continued investment in initial teacher education highlights the value placed on educational professionals here in Ireland.
A very significant consultation to inform a senior cycle review is ongoing. This poses greater challenges than at junior cycle, given the significance placed on the final assessment and confidence in the Leaving Certificate as a means of entry to third level. However, encouraging students to engage in active learning methodologies and seeking to enhance students' creativity should not diminish their opportunities of success in external examinations.
There is a tradition of engagement with external bodies providing opportunities for students to engage in creative projects such as the Young Scientist and Young Social Innovators (YSI).
Another speaker will be Professor Luke O'Neill, Trinity College Dublin, author of Humanology - A Scientist's Guide To Our Amazing Existence. He has a most positive message on the human capability to continually adapt. He also defines pedagogy as "the art, science or practice of teaching" and admits: "I love teaching pedagogists."
We look forward to an enriching experience at the convention where he will be provided with this opportunity.
John Irwin is General Secretary of the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools.