Looking for Learners: Are we?

It’s been more than a week since we hosted the AASSA conference at Colegio Roosevelt, in Lima, and it still has me pondering.

This year’s theme, Looking for Learning, has allowed us to have a conversation about what teachers should be prioritizing; after all, the proof is in the pudding. But what about the learners? Are we paying enough attention to them?

According to Martin Skelton, one of the keynote presenters at the conference, determining what type of student a school envisions is the bearing that should drive learning.

Indeed, the notion of learning is often marred by vagueness because schools don’t take the time to step back and think deeply about what the learners in their community should look like by the time they graduate.

These conversations could get messy, but they’re just as vital: do we want to forge passionate learners or students who study only for extrinsic rewards? Do we want kids who create socially responsible solutions or students who only serve outside of school time because it’s mandatory or might help them get into their dream university? Do we want kids with deep integrity or students who feel so much pressure that they plagiarize or skip school on a day of a test.

Indeed, in international education, it seems that we struggle to have a clear definition. We say that we want to create students that are passionate about learning, but then we see students simply checking all the boxes. We talk about kids innovating by dealing with ambiguity, yet we expect them to follow instructions, step by step. We want our students to learn how to fail, even though in many school systems, failure is not an option.

So, once again, what learners are we looking for? Is our mission ultimately to create students that get into great universities or are we looking for learners who are prepared for a world that’s complex and uncertain?

At first glance, the two might seem to blend well, but sadly, students can get to top universities without truly possessing the “survival skills” we so often say that we cherish the most.

But make no mistake: this post isn't about what program we ought to be teaching; in fact, the program is unimportant if we haven't had a genuine debate about what type of learner we value the most.

Define the learner first, and, only then ask yourself what learning is conducive to make that vision happen.

If we’re not willing to spend the time to have such a basic and important conversation then what was this conference really for?