Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Melbourne’s independent Montessori school to conduct further research into the need for a reformed education system. It was a rather serendipitous occasion, as just before I arrived, news broke that David Michael Gonski had called for a school curriculum change. The businessman and education advocate’s report detailed the shortcomings of the Australian education system and suggested reforms to address these. 

The Gonski 2.0 report

Gonski’s report calls for a modernised, ’bottom-up’ approach where the focus is on the child’s individual needs — compared to an Industrial era, rigid ‘top-down’ model where there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to learning.

The three priorities detailed in the report are:

-Deliver at least one year’s growth in learning for every student, every year.

-Equip every student to be a creative, connected and engaged learner in a rapidly changing world.

-Cultivate an adaptive, innovative and continuously improving education system.

Some of the stand-out recommendations from the report include:

-Develop evidence-based tools and resources to assist early childhood education providers, primary, and secondary schools to implement best practice approaches to supporting parents and carers to engage in their children’s learning throughout their education.

-Ensure all students have the opportunity within schools to be partners in their own learning.

-Develop a new online and on-demand student learning assessment tool based on the Australian curriculum learning progressions. 

-Revise the structure of the Australian curriculum progressively over the next five years to present the learning areas and general capabilities as learning progressions.

What Montessori gets right

Gonski’s suggested reforms strongly align with the philosophy of the Montessori education system. In visiting the school, I witnessed first hand the positive impact a forward-thinking approach to education can have on children. I saw a hands-on learning environment where each child’s individuality is respected and independence, freedom within limits and a sense of world order are fostered. The Montessori philosophy is grounded in nurturing intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and physical growth for the development of well-rounded children. 

All classes are multi-age, as there’s a strong belief that a child’s learning development isn’t based on age alone. This gives each child the opportunity to learn from others and the flexibility to develop their personality at their own pace, both socially and intellectually. Children usually stay with the same teacher for three years, leading to strong teacher-student bonds and a deep understanding by the teacher of individual student characteristics. The children appeared to be happy and engaged and I was extremely impressed by how welcome all staff and students made me feel.

What needs to change?

Of course, no one education system is perfect. I believe that a well-informed and carefully advised system that draws on the strengths from various approaches is what is required to create a brighter future for our children. Most importantly, there needs to be greater focus on self-development, not just academic performance.

In Napoleon Hill’s bestselling book, Think And Grow Rich, he expressed a belief that his secret formula for success should be taught in all public schools and colleges. He states that if it were properly taught, it would revolutionise the entire education system and even reduce the time spent at school.

Indeed, a successful mindset and understanding of the power of a mind are essential to prepare children for the modern world. With children now having online careers from a young age, we need to be helping ALL students meet their potential. In the age of entrepreneurship, self-development and self-improvement, it’s crucial to facilitate the process for all children with equal access.

I recall being a bright-eyed, enthusiastic high school student when my careers counsellor asked me what I wanted to do once I graduated. Much to her surprise, the word ‘psychiatrist’ came out of my mouth. I was taken aback when she told me it was too hard and involved too much study. While this may seem shocking to us these days, the same dismissive attitude is still present in schools today.  Children are labelled ‘difficult’ and removed from the classroom when they can’t keep up, or chastised for not being good at maths, even though they’re brilliant at English.

We need to stop trying to fit our students into a square mould. Everyone has individual needs and strengths and by paying attention to these, we can allow each and every child to live up to their full potential. In doing so, the benefits for our nation would be far-reaching. It would likely lead to a reduction in crime, mental health would go from dis-ease to at-ease, rates of unemployment would go down and much more.

What can we do?

While Gonski’s report has outlined the blueprint for a modernised education system, it is now in the government’s hands to allocate funding and unroll these changes. However, that doesn’t mean that we have to sit back and do nothing while we wait. Just by familiarising ourselves with the changes that are to come, students, parents and teachers alike can be ready to embrace the new age of education.  

Parents must also be aware of their rights. The schools in their catchments areas are not the only education options for their children and there are other alternatives that may offer a more progressive education model.

I invite all parents, students and teachers to make a commitment to reform. You can read Gonski’s full report here.

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