Designing for difference is impacting the way we organise and govern our societies and prepare for the future. In New Zealand, we have just engaged in our first Superdiversity Stocktake, where the implications of New Zealand’s ethnic superdiversity are being considered for business, government and citizens. The motivation is to ensure, as a country, we are fit for the future as we transition to a superdiverse society.
Implications for education
In education, this “difference” imperative is also becoming a catalyst for change:
- findings in cognitive neuroscience are confirming that there is significant variability in how we each learn (OECD 2010).
- international reports focus on the need for schools to develop acute sensitivity to individual learners differences and to use that knowledge as a driver for the design of physical and blended learning environments and flexible teaching approaches (OECD 2012, 2015).
In learning settings across the sector, discussions about what “all learners” means are increasingly commonplace. Many of us are also questioning how we can effectively and sustainably respond.
We are also collectively taking stock of what we carry:
- we have been schooled in a “teach to the majority” approach, with a built-in expectation that specialists will take responsibility for the special learners.
- we recognise the language of the education system has reinforced the idea of “othering” at an structural and organisational level and that it has shaped our practice
- we see labels that separate learners inadvertently lower expectations of participation, contribution and achievement.
As a profession we recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach is actually one-size-fits no-one. As our understanding of learner variability grows, we can see that we need approaches to designing learning environments that are focussed on designing for that learner variability from the outset: environments that are flexible and richly embedded with built-in with supports and options.
Questions to consider:
- What one size-fits all approaches are hidden in the way you do things? e.g “every teacher must blog”, girls wear skirts, a print newsletter, an online survey, everyone must use a laptop to write. What flexible alternatives could you offer?
- How will you build student, community and staff understanding of the value of diversity?
- What are you doing to support teachers to build their understanding and skills to meet the diversity all students bring to learning?
- How is sensitivity to student diversity guiding the design of new buildings?
Chapter 5: Learning from the developmental and biological perspective in Dumont, H., Instance, D., & Benavides., F (Eds.), The nature of learning: Using research to inspire practice. (pp. 317-336). Paris: OECD.
Bolstad, R. & Gilbert, J. with McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S. & Hipkins, R. (2012). Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective. Report to the Ministry of Education. Wellington: Ministry of Education