Megatrends hampered by micro pace

31st March 1995 at 01:00
Brian Caldwell says reforms born a decade ago are not going far enough or fast enough. A megatrend is a major societal change which is consistent in direction, international in scope and enduring in effect. The concept was devised by John Naisbitt. Some trends in school education have been under way in so many nations for so long and with sufficient strength that they may be viewed as megatrends.

In Leading the Self-Managing School, published in 1992, 10 years after Naisbitt, Jim Spinks and I described 10 megatrends unfolding around the world. Writing in the future tense, we proposed: l. There will be a powerful but sharply focused role for central authorities, especially in respect to formulating goals, setting priorities, and building frameworks for accountability; 2. National and global considerations will become increasingly important, especially concerning curriculums and an education system that is responsive to national needs within a global economy; 3. Within centrally determined frameworks, government (public) schools will become largely self-managing, and distinctions between government and non-government (private) schools will narrow; 4. There will be unparalleled concern for the provision of a quality education for each individual; 5. Educative function will be dispersed, with telecommunications and computer technology ensuring that much learning that currently occurs in schools or in institutions of higher education will occur at home and in the workplace; 6. The basics of education will be expanded to include problem-solving, creativity and a capacity for lifelong learning and re-learning; 7. There will be an expanded role for the arts and spirituality, defined broadly in each instance; there will be a high level of 'connectedness' in the curriculum; 8. Women will claim their place among the ranks of leaders in education, including those at the most senior levels; 9. The parental and community role in education will be claimed or reclaimed;.

10. There will be unparalleled concern for service by those who are required or have the opportunity to support the work of schools.

Three years after publication, these trends are even stronger, although those concerned with connectedness in the curriculum and the leadership of women remains relatively weak in most settings. While ideological underpinnings and approaches to implementation are properly the subject of debate, the major themes in these developments were for the most part long overdue, are consistent with developments elsewhere in the public and private sectors, and are almost certainly irreversible.

However, evidence is mounting that recent reforms have not gone far enough. Influential voices in three nations have now made the call to reshape the reform agenda in dramatic fashion. In the United States, the concept of "reinventing government" has marked efforts to restructure the public sector and it was only a matter of time before there was a call for "reinventing education".

Gerstner and his colleagues have presented such an argument with rare force and focus in their recent book, Reinventing Education. Unlike businesses that are periodically forced to respond to new technologies, new demands from their markets, or the obsolescence of their products, no external forces have demanded that schools change. Schools have been able to ignore the revolutionary possibilities of technology, to keep the same hierarchical organisational structure, to preserve traditional rules governing the numbers of students in each class and type of school, and to stick with the traditional curriculum and teaching styles. The schools have not become worse, they have simply not changed for the better.

In Britain, the effectiveness of recent major reforms has been questioned by David Hargreaves, professor of education at Cambridge University, in his monograph The Mosaic of Learning: Schools and Teachers for the Next Century. He considers that "all these revolutions have largely failed", contending that "schools are still modelled on a curious mix of the factory, the asylum and the prison". In Australia, the case for refocusing the reform effort was presented in Dean Ashenden's Australian Schooling: Two Futures, commissioned by the National Industry Education Forum.

For Ashenden, "The present raft of reforms will make little or no headway on . . . fundamental problems. National goals for schooling, the development of national curriculum profiles, decentralisation of the big school systems, softening of zoning for government schools and other measures address the right problems, but cannot overcome them. The greatest single weakness in these reforms is that they stop at the classroom door. The classroom is the student's workplace. It is, in essence, a 19th century workplace - much more humane and interesting, but recognisably the same place. It is an inefficient and inequitable producer of the old basics and simply incompatible with the new."

The agenda for further reform proposed by these writers and others who are influential in policy assume that the major structural features of recent changes will continue. Their call is at once more fundamental, as in Hargreaves' proposal for a new organisational image for schools, with that of the hospital more appropriate than that of the factory; the former challenges schools to employ a far richer range of staff to respond to the unique needs of each student.

Their call is also centred on technology for, as Dixon notes in a recent issue of Phi Delta Kappan: "Worldwide, school is a puffer-belly locomotive chugging incongruously through a high-tech landscape". Embracing the new technologies will have implications for virtually every aspect of the professional culture of teachers, including design of school buildings, support of home and workplace learning on an unprecedented scale, acceptance of contract work over many sites and in flexible modes, and life-long professional development.

It is little wonder that Peter Drucker asserted in Post-Capitalist Society that "no other institution faces challenges as radical as those that will transform the school". But can this change in professional culture be achieved? The prognosis is not good if one reflects on recent experiences for teachers. It is arguable that most have yet to come to terms with the major themes of the current transformation, let alone contemplate what lies ahead.

Most are so overwhelmed by impossible expectations under current arrangements that they cannot get a fix on the larger picture. Their interests are not helped by those in government, in unions and in the academic world who continue to cast this transformation almost exclusively in terms of ideological battles of a bygone era (though a continuing critique of some major elements in the transformation such as curriculum and resources is necessary).

To sustain an outdated image of school and a misleading or narrow view of what is occurring and why will have the effect of de-skilling and disempowering the profession.

Brian J. Caldwell is professor of education at the University of Melbourne.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today