Royal Commission on Learning Report: Short Version

Royal Commission on Learning

The complexity of change

As we were writing this report, we were sent a story from a British newspaper, The Independent, reporting on differences between education reforms in Britain and France. "While John Major's government wants teachers to do more whole-class

teaching," it tells us, "French ministers want them to pay more attention to individuals...On tests, the French are moving in the opposite direction from the British: from next year there will be no national tests and tests will be administered only to a sample of schools...Again, while British ministers want teacher training to be more practical, the French are trying to ensure that their teachers know more theory." As one of our researchers put it, "Just flip a coin."

Here's another example. In our public consultations we found a widespread sense that Japan had an education system worthy of being considered a model for our own. Yet in Japan itself, we learned, there is a strong impetus for education reform. At the same time, we have accumulated reports from apparently knowledgeable and unbiased sources that disagree profoundly on the most basic truths about Japanese schools. Do they promote understanding or mere memorization? Are kids drilled like robots, or treated as thinking individuals? Are teachers creative and provocative, or deadly dull and indifferent? Do Japanese kids really graduate with a better education than our own, or have they just crammed and learned to play the game better? We have evidence that backs up every one of these propositions, however contradictory. (The only fact we're certain of is that although Japanese kids go to school for more days a year than ours, the amount of time they spend in classroom academic activities is actually no longer than our own.)

Everywhere in the developed world, education reform is rampant. We have carefully studied examples of jurisdictions that have introduced considerable changes in recent years. Frankly, it's almost impossible to know what's worked and what hasn't. Every change has its passionate advocates and its outraged antagonists. What seems unquestionable, however, is that no-one has come up with that one simple idea that will turn the whole thing around. That's because no simple solution exists. If it did, we'd all be getting aboard with great enthusiasm and relief. You can't construct a school as if it were a business that manufactures widgets any more than you can manage a school that way. People aren't widgets. Human development and learning is an enormously complex undertaking that has no perfect model or easy-to-follow directions.

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