“The failure of the new learning culture”

“The failure of the new learning culture”

Education researcher demands: “Give up this misguided course, immediately”

by Karl Müller

With the provisions of the OECD and paired with “competence orientation” throughout Europe, teaching and learning at public schools is more and more affected by the “new learning culture”. Part of this “new learning culture” is above all the so-called “self-directed”, “individual” learning, specifically: Each student is to have an individual learning plan allegedly precisely tailored to his needs on which he is to work by himself, but with the help of worksheets (and computer programmes). The teacher is to largely withdraw from the learning process at school and only be “facilitator” and “coach”.
Already for 20 years this “new learning culture” has beeen raised to question by experienced teachers, previous scientific studies and in particular by the meta-research results of John Hattie. However, this did not change a farthing in education policy. But now criticism increases massively , because even those research institutions which are proponents of the “new” learning methods, have to admit how questionable the concept is.

In the middle of Baden-Württemberg’s summer holidays on 17 August 2015, editor Heike Schmoll, since many years responsible for education, published a contribution to the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” entitled “Swabian suicide mission”. The lead reads as follows: “A devastating assessment, provided by a report on the showcase project Gemeinschafts­schule (community school). Especially individual learning proves to be extremely ineffective.”
At high speed the Green-Red state government estalished community schools in the school law of the state in 2012. The “new learning culture” is the hallmark of this new school.
Heike Schmoll writes that the report is being kept locked up, but that it is available at the newspaper. The report is part of the accompanying research of the newly established so-called community schools in Baden-Württemberg – “so-called” because this new type of school has nothing to do with the classical community schools, for the core concept of the new school is indeed opposed to that of community education.
From a formal point of view the report is valid only for one school, a community school in Tübingen. According to that report, so the newspaper article says, “neither does the new teaching method of independent learning with learning facilitators succeed, neither does the inclusion or the special support of the weakest and the strongest”. “It is above all that individual learning” that had “proved extremely ineffective”.
The students, teachers and parents, surveyed by the researchers, so the newspaper quotes the report, “agreed that learning times are not used effectively and that one would actually work too little”. Since learning, so the newspaper article goes on, “takes place either in the group room, in the learning studio or even in the hallway, there is a lack of discipline”. Again the article quotes the report: the time spent on active learning was “very little, and in this case, the rate of disruptions often correspondingly high”. The weaker students, in particular, would fall behind even more than was the case before”.
The teachers in the examined “learning groups” “lose track, which student is working on what, how much progress he makes, and the control of the results comes up badly”. In the assessment made by the teachers the “substantive quality of the students’ work” was “neglected”.
Instead of presenting the report to the public and dealing seriously with its results, the relevant ministry and the research group itself responded with criticism concerning the publication of the results. Four professors of the research team from the State’s Universities of Education in Freiburg, Heidelberg and Wein­garten on 18 August presented even a “correction”. However, it does not refer at all to the content of the issues mentioned above. Instead, it is claimed, that the report refers only to the “stage of development of a single school” and that it was “not exemplary of the community schools’ experience in Baden-Württemberg”.
However, the fact is that the examined school is considered a model community school and the criticisms raised in the report correspond exactly to what you hear from other community schools in the country and what probably is a logical consequence of the pedagogical concept. Another educationalist, Matthias Burchardt, explained that. He does research and teaches at the University of Cologne, where his focus is on general education and educational policy, and he was an interim professor at the Ludwigsburg University of Education in Baden-Württemberg, in 2012/2013. In an interview with the “Stuttgarter Neue Nachrichten” dated 27 August 2015, he presented his view on the matter.
Matthias Burchardt was allowed to have a look at the evaluation study, which has not yet been open to the public, and he distinguishes between the results that concern only the examined school and those that are generalisable and therefore probably apply to all community schools.
Matthias Burchardt is asked what from his perspective the core results of the report are. His answer: “The failure of the new learning culture”.
He explains: “Teachers and students are often unable to cope with the new forms of learning. In the report the manner is described, for example, in which the students are largely busy with working through learning packages. Those packages are copied lists or tasks that you do independently and without a teacher or a classmate, ideally at a rapid pace. The class situation that is famliar to all of us from our own schooldays, with a teacher in front explaining something to the students or discussing with them, so that a community situation arises, no longer forms the core of educational action. Instead, each student is isolated in learning.” And he adds: “The teacher only controls how many work packages have been completed, but not what has actually been learned. The report shows that the teachers have not even managed to correct the textual errors in the learning packages. The student therefore does never know whether he did it right or wrong.”
When asked about the consequences, he would like to draw from the present report, Matthias Burchardt replies: “From my point of view, this misguided course should be given up immediately.” He said he was surprised that, instead, the research group even proposed more new learning culture: “The very object cannot be to enforce a new method by all means, but the aim must be to help the children to succeed.” That can certainly be achieved “better on the proven paths of the school system than on those paths in a community school.”
Matthias Burchardt considers it “very dangerous to entrust a half-baked system that shows strong indications that it is bound to fail, with a whole generation of students”. And: “Politics ought to admit that this system has failed.”
But this admission is still missing. Therefore Matthias Burchardt considers it an ideological project. This is apparent from the fact that there is no willingness to return and no objectivity: “It is alarming that they do not argue on the merits, but instead make personal attacks on the critics.”
In fact, ideology also dominates the latest project of the green-red state government with the amendment to the school act in order to converse the hitherto highly successful intermediate secondary schools of the country. Despite enormous pressure from the ministry, so far hardly any of these intermediate secondary schools has been willing to be a community school. Now they are to be forcibly converted by law into a “community school light”. There, too, the “new learning culture” shall be the standard, even here against any concerns that have already become apparent for months and recently again at the public hearing in the relevant committee of parliament on 22 July 2015. Even the “Staatsanzeiger”, official gazette of the federal state, had to write on 23 July: “There is a lot of criticism concerning the plans for the intermediate secondary school in consultation in the state parliament”.     •

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