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Do you think to affirm, or to learn?

In the wake of what some have called, a Tsunami of change, brought about by the sudden COVID-19 pandemic, I had time to pause and engage with some writers and educational researchers who I have admired and followed for quite some time.

I found myself delving back into Adam Grant's, Think Again. I don't normally revisit much at all; restaurants, picnic spots, cafe's, great movies, nor bars. The second time around just doesn't live up to the elevated expectations. Think Again is the exception. The relatability of the content is hard-hitting. One just needs to go back for a second bite.

Grant challenges us to obviously, 'Think Again'. I'm an educator and like most educators, roll my eyes when faced with a newly mandated curriculum, taxonomy, model, or pedagogy. I didn't realise that I was indeed being what Grant refers to as either a:

  • Prosecutor - looking for fault in the proposal or idea;

  • preacher - promoting my own ideas; the ideas and approaches I'd been wedded to; and/or

  • politician - gathering support for my approach, based on my experience and previous success.

What I needed to do though (and still do) is to search for truth, like a Scientist. And this is hard. It involves using evidence in the search for truth, patterns, and adjusting our hypotheses. Sometimes we don't like what we find. It might mean that we need to change our approach, to become uncomfortable, or maybe expose our vulnerabilities. However, without 'thinking' or 'rethinking' to learn, we tend to swim in a pool of biases; positive, negative, desirable, or affirming. This propensity won't bring about change. We need change - in thinking and in practice.

Imagine if we didn't rethink our current knowledge and understanding. I suggest that Pluto would still be a planet, and lobotomies would still be the preferred treatment for mental health disorders. And as Grant discovers, we'd join those before us, like Mike Lazaridis, who refused to 'rethink' his Blackberry, even in the face of new, and ongoing, developments with the Apple juggernaut. Where is the Blackberry now? My point exactly.

This brings me to the NSW Higher School Certificate ('HSC') and COVID-19. If COVID-19 taught us one thing, it's that, in the face of adversity, we can and should, 'think again'. Those that had the courage to do so ended up thriving in the pandemic. Many small businesses entered, for the first time, into virtual, diversified, and contactless spaces in order to deliver their goods and services.

In the education domain, universities and executive officers from various education sectors started the debate and called for a 'rethink' of the validity of the current HSC. Interestingly, i the wake of the pandemic, we also saw a surge of university early entry offers to students, based on Year 11 course work, principal recommendations, and portfolios. In addition, whilst we acknowledge that predictive analysis of course work isn't quite perfect, 93% of estimates are accurate. It really is possible and appropriate to rethink the HSC.

Fischetti et al (2020) argue that we have an abundance of data on our students by the time they reach Year 11 which we can us to "help direct them into the pathway that best aligns to their current strengths. It also tells us we need to provide a different kind of Year 12 experience ...." A different kind of schooling experience involves 'rethinking' education in its prevailing 'conventional' form. As Guy Claxton (2021) attests, our current 'system' is reductive and only serves those who rely upon, and are rewarded for, a particular kind of learning which culminates with the HSC. Worryingly, little evaluation of the HSC has occurred since its inception in 1967. It continues to celebrate the acquisition, and regurgitation of conceptual tools that have little relevance to 21st Century students' everyday lives, passions and concerns. It is small wonder, therefore, that our secondary students have lost all of their natural curiosity by the time they finish their formal schooling.

As the tsunami tides recede, it becomes apparent that things can’t, shouldn't, and won’t, return to ‘normal’. It is therefore encouraging to see disruptive leaders, and visionaries in some of our schools rethinking the HSC and offering alternative, personalised pathways because of, or in spite of, the HSC in its current state. There is a strong, undercurrent of change emerging which is incredibly exciting. I suggest we tighten our life jackets and enjoy the ride.

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