The opening keynote at the TAISI leadership conference in Goa in early September 2022 was given by the recently-appointed leader of a major international curriculum (and assessment) provider. His topic was the future of education, and how we must shift our educational practice in order to meet this future. He cited research from the OECD, for example, on the future of learning, as an example of how we need to think about the educational paradigm. In the past month or so, this leader has also posted some thinking on LinkedIn (an interview he gave recently), and comments were full of effusive praise and hope.
It was, in a word, disappointing. Some version of this same talk has been given (what feels like every single day) for the past ten to fifteen years. As one school leader at our table said, “These speakers, they never focus on implementation. They always talk about the theory. We need something practical; we’re sick and tired of hearing about the future of education.”
Apart from his chosen topic being tired and passé in general, what I genuinely struggled with was his insistence upon the intersection of specific terms and ideas whose cumulative force represented ‘the future of education.’ I was partially surprised by the lack of his own organisation’s perspective, as well as surprised by the overt bias in presenting ‘the future of education’ as a non-negotiable instrument. It was social constructivist in nature, yet social constructionism is but one way of looking at education; there are others. Why this way, and not another? Or, why this way, and not some hybrid thinking that draws on several ways of looking at education?
As I spoke with others at our table, I became increasingly uneasy, until finally I realised what was gnawing at me: if all of us (schools, educational leaders, teachers, etc.) were to adopt this tack, wouldn’t all schools essentially look the same? Wasn’t this an effort to homogenise education? The homogenisation of education is something I’ve been watching for years. Adherents speak the same language, attend the same professional development, institute cultures of learning in their schools that emulate these elements of shared practice, and more. I’m reminded of a former school head (let’s keep him anonymous) who once wrote to a group of his peers during his last year of headship (before retiring): “I’m both enormously impressed and slightly uneasy. Impressed by the energy and positivity of international education and the genuinely extraordinary professional qualities that come through in mails both now and throughout the year; uneasy because the international education world seems to have become a monoculture, prey to a pensée unique. Initiatives always seem to involve inquiry, discovery, differentiation, projects, student agency, transferable skills, maker spaces, cross-curricular thematic learning, constructivism, progressivism, IT, growth mindsets, mindfulness, Reggio Emilia, and other Rousseau- and Dewey-inspired concepts.”
Though he cites international education, this same monoculture is thriving in US independent schools, which I find perplexing, given the adjective independent. There seems to be a dearth of independent thought (and practice) around education; instead, there is fealty to myopia, as noted above (“prey to a pensée unique”). Visit a number of NAIS-member schools in the US, or leading IB schools in the international sector, and you’ll find much in common. Perhaps too much in common; so much so that it becomes almost eerie. Haven’t I seen this before? (Answer: yes…yes you have)