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Could Bird Flu Radically Change Education?

An outbreak of bird flu could be the ‘tipping point’ that radically changes education. No, I am not trying to be alarmist or creating ‘click bait’. I believe that our education system is rapidly approaching a ‘tipping point’ where the structures which have been in place for over 100 years need to change to engage learners and prepare them for their future, not our past. Unfortunately, it may take a significant event such as an outbreak of bird flu to force us to take action and radically overhaul education rather than ‘tinker’ with it.

Earlier in my career, I was the Principal of Kowloon Junior School in Hong Kong. In 2003, Hong Kong ground to a halt as an epidemic of Avian (or bird) flu took hold. Many public places, including schools, were closed for five weeks to reduce the spread of the virus.

Teachers still had to report to work and were expected to teach their students but the students had to stay at home. By all reports and to the surprise of many, learning continued quite successfully. This occurred 15 years ago with technology far less developed than we currently have available.

Imagine if such an event were to occur in your area today?
What would happen if your students had to remain at their homes and were not allowed to gather at school?
Could your staff still support their learning?
Would they do things differently?

Of course, that is how Distance Education programs have catered for students who are isolated through distance or who are not attending a ‘traditional’ school for other reasons.

Today we can learn many things through online programs including learning platforms, YouTube etc. I have long been a fan of mastery learning principles utilised in platforms such as the Khan Academy.

Individualised or personalised learning as espoused in the recent Gonski 2.0 report has a lot to offer in engaging students at an appropriate level to their needs. If students were suddenly learning ‘online’ and developing their skills and knowledge through self-paced programs that they could access 24 /7 then the role of schools would rapidly change. Our focus would move to the social aspects of getting along and working with others.

Last month I recommended reading “The Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros. In this excellent book, Couros emphasises the importance of innovation and rediscovering the ‘why’ of schooling. I’d recommend it as a book that all school leaders should read.

As William Pollard highlights, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”