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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Sustainable Education

Developing Sustainable Education
As the proposed changes regarding the quality of standards and qualifications, the proposed new National Curriculum and the new ways of assessing achievement, just to name a few, flash by almost daily, it is important to reflect on the long-term aims of the suggested changes and to consider their sustainability.  Education must be sustainable for the successful outcomes of the growing school population and future generations.  Any reform or innovation must be sustainability-proof for worthwhile, long-term effects, and it is precisely that sustainability of the proposed reforms that we should be concerned with.

Education and schools face many challenges and therefore in order to be well prepared for the demands of the modern era, schools have an important role to play in developing independent, self-regulating pupils ready for the challenges ahead in the 21st century.  Within the globally integrated economy and the rapid development of technology, pupils will be required to develop the ability for making informed choices, for which they will need independence and self-regulatory skills.  Weeden et al. (2002) argue that in order to make effective choices in the 21st century, pupils will need to be self-reliant: “…new opportunity requires each individual to develop the capacity to chart their own route, their own learning map, their own individual targets for learning” (p.9).

Schools thus face a crucial challenge of developing strategies of working successfully within the systems of high-stake tests, for certification and accountability purposes, and developing self-regulated learners through formative practices.  Hence the purposes, for which assessment outcomes are used, are key to developing a system focused on learning advancement and on developing sustainable learners.  Independent schools, which are free in their curriculum choices, could be well placed to develop their assessment systems relevant to the learners of the 21st century.  Boud (2000) refers to this idea of schools working within the constraints of summative and formative assessment frameworks as ‘double duty’.  Within these constraints, Stobart (2008) emphasizes the importance of assessment aims: “It is what is done with this information [assessment outcomes] which will determine whether it becomes formative – does it lead to further learning? So the difference is about purpose rather than timing” (p.159).

Sadler (1989) also recognizes the value of self-monitoring as an essential skill for improvement, “… for students to be able to improve, they must develop the capacity to monitor the quality of their own work during production” (p.119), which means that students need to be taught how to self-evaluate their work for successful progress.  Since pupils need to be actively engaged in their learning processes, rather than be passive receivers of information, to be effective learners in the 21st century, it would seem almost certainly that pupils should be equipped with self-regulatory skills for making sense of and managing their own learning.

Educational theorists agree that learners who are able to self-regulate their learning use these skills to affect positively their learning and motivation (Boekaerts and Corno, 2005) and are efficient at managing their own learning (Boekaerts et al. 2000; Butler and Winne, 1995; Stobart, 2008). 

Perrenoud (1998) affirms that well-regulated classroom environments with focus on the learning outcomes before any learning occurs and adjusting teaching to pupils’ responses, assist with the regulation of learning.  Importantly, Boekaerts and Corno (2005) assert that “all theorists assume that there are no direct linkages between achievement and personal or contextual characteristics; achievement effects are mediated by self-regulatory activities that students engage to reach learning and performance goals” (p.201).  Therefore appropriate teacher intervention is crucial to train students to regulate their own behaviour so students develop their self-regulatory and motivational skills allowing them to be less teacher-dependent.  As research suggest that learners who use these meta-cognitive skills (thinking about learning) obtain better grades (Boekaerts, 1995), Boekaerts concludes that “all learners should be equipped with multiple forms of self-regulatory skills” (p.17) and that “teachers should make these self-regulatory skills explicit educational targets” (ibid.) in order to make pupils effective independent learners capable of regulating their own behaviour and learning. 

As one of the goals of any educational institution is to achieve the highest academic results possible for their students (fulfilment of students’ potential), the importance of the research findings into the psychology of learning, and in particular into motivation (Schunk and Zimmerman, 1994; Dweck and Legett, 1988) – a crucial element of classroom success – are important considerations for teachers. Since the learners’ autonomy, where pupils can take charge of their learning (Dornyei, 2001) can increase motivation and be beneficial to learning, assisting pupils in becoming independent learners could have positive effects on their motivation to learn.  Rogers (1991) argues that: “The only kind of learning which significantly affects behaviour is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning” (p.276), which emphasizes the importance of one’s involvement in one’s own learning. Stobart (2008) also claims that it is the learner’s responsibility to become independent and it is the teachers’ task to use appropriate methodology to enable learners to become autonomous: “Part of being a self-regulated learner is to accept responsibility for learning, just as teachers must take responsibility for creating a context which helps learning” (p.179).  This view stresses the value of the quality of interactions between teachers and learners and the importance for teachers to create purposeful learning environments where students can be effectively supported in developing their independent learning skills.

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