Saturday, 4 June 2016

Something Wicked This Way Comes

My third post for the Mind Lab paper: "Applied Practice in Context":
Week 27: Contemporary issues or trends in New Zealand or internationally

“Shut the door please...we’re not trying to heat the world!” I call, as yet another student rushes from the hall without making sure that the door closes.  The heaters are on; the first day of winter has hit with a vengeance. “Global warming,” another teacher jokes.

And I think about how teaching has changed.  We’re not just sweating the small stuff like teaching kids to shut doors, we've now got to think about them as the lifesavers that we are throwing out to our future selves. Global warming is now one of the wicked problems that our children are facing.
Wicked problems are shaping education in New Zealand and internationally.  Documents like Future State 2030 highlight issues that will change the world of work and mean that our children will need to create solutions to issues that we have not experienced ourselves: demographics, the rise of the individual, the rise of technology, economic interconnectedness, public debt, economic power shift, climate change, resource stress and urbanisation.

The educational model, often referred to as the factory model, which we and our parents “survived” can not prepare our youth for a future career that no longer conforms to a narrow classification of job descriptions; we can’t promise them that effort and a university degree will lead to a secure future. Ken Robinson elaborates on this paradigm shift in his Ted talk.

I'm tasked, in this blog post, to identify and evaluate two contemporary issues or trends that are shaping education nationally and globally, but I'm finding that tricky; they all blend into the cauldron of wicked problems that require the current model of school to change: what teachers are and what they do and what learning and the student’s role in the learning process needs to look like.

I remember when all I was tasked to do as a teacher was make sure the content of the end of year exam was presented and absorbed. I remember debating with my HOD in 1990 about knowledge versus skill.  She firmly believed her role was to teach them material as their heads were empty. Over the last three decades professional development on the science of teaching has transformed to the art of learning. Digital technologies and the world wide web started to transform the possibilities open to us in the last two decades of the twentieth century.

In the nineteen nineties, organisations like UNESCO and the OECD, started to look at how we needed to change education to deal with the issues that were predicted to feature in the twenty first century.

The result was to move from a content based curriculum to a competency based curriculum; our own key competencies are based on the four pillars of the UNESCO Delors Report of 1993: learning to be, learning to know, learning to do and learning to live together; and the four competencies of the OECD 2005 report, which look much like what we now have: thinking, relating to others, understanding language, symbols and text, managing self and participating and contributing.

In their highly readable text, Key Competencies for the Future, Hipkins et al show how important these are for a future beset with wicked problems and show how “good” teachers scaffold learning opportunities where students are encouraged to involve themselves more deeply in critical and creative problem solving.

And therein lies the rub.  Our international and national education system is slow to change from that old factory model to one which embraces a desiloed curriculum, available technologies, authentic problems and design thinking. Political decision makers are at odds with educationalists about what our students need.  Parents view a good education as the one which they understand and which worked in past decades.

The teaching profession itself needs a shake up. Teacher training institutions are accepting students with literacy and numeracy levels below what they need. Digital technology use and inquiry thinking need to be much better developed. Our children deserve the best and the brightest teachers with growth mindsets who see the importance of creating different models of education.

We need learners who are engaged, motivated and self regulating.  How we create self regulated
 learners is the core pedagogical process needed in innovative learning environments, the current “bright and shiny thing”.  It’s important that we get students engaging in the learning processes they need to work out how to attack those wicked problems.  Research suggests that different contexts need different solutions.  It’s the subject of my literacy review and my inquiry.

What we need to do is keep engaging the naysayers at all levels.  As educators we need to keep asking, how can we do this better? We need to keep our eyes focussed on the future, fuzzy though it may appear.  We need to develop in ourselves those learning dispositions we need in our students.


Delors, J. ed. (1993). Learning: the treasure within. Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century (Highlights). UNESCO Publishing.
Retrieved from

Dumont, H., Istance, D., Benavides, F. (ed.) (2010). The nature of learning: using research to inspire practice. Educational Research and Innovation. OECD Publishing.

Education Review Office. (2012). Evaluation at a Glance: Priority Learners in New Zealand Schools. Retrieved 18 May 2016, from

Hipkins, R., Bolstad, R., Boyd, S., & McDowall, S. (2014). Key competencies for the future. New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) Press.

KPMG International. (2014). Future state 2030: the global megatrends shaping governments”. KPMG International Cooperative: USA. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.
Retrieved 10 August 2009 from

Ministry of Education (2016). Enabling E-Learning: Teaching: Innovative Learning Environments. Retrieved from

National intelligence council.(2012). Global trends: Alternative Worlds. National Intelligence Council: US. Retrieved from

Toffler, A. (1981). The third wave (pp. 32-33). New York: Bantam books.