Pioneers are beginning to present exciting glimpses into a reimagined view of education - one with “whole-person learning” at its centre. These pockets of innovation, however, are not enough unless we can move away from the prevailing system, which is organised around a narrow set of exams. As we think about the urgent and increasingly complex global issues that must be solved, time is of the essence. We must focus not only on innovating but also on driving system wide change – both now and in the future.
A century ago, the education system aimed to give large numbers of children basic literacy and numeracy skills to use in the manufacturing workforce. In developed countries, the standardised model of education was developed to meet those needs. Since then, although the education system has been modernised to some extent, changes have been modest and largely incremental:
• Content has been expanded to include modern subjects (e.g., computer science), and additional competencies and skills (e.g., social and emotional learning); the focus, though, is still primarily on foundational literacies (i.e., reading and maths).
• New pedagogies have emerged, e.g., the use of project-based learning, but their uptake has been limited. Lecture-based teaching remains the main form of instruction for most students.
• Increased attention has been given to accountability and progress for disadvantaged students. Performance, though, is still measured primarily along the same industrial standards.
• This emphasis also fails to reflect the fact that jobs in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) comprise an increasing proportion of the economy; their growth between 2008 and 2018 is projected to outstrip that of non-STEM jobs (17% versus 10%).
These modern trends have significant implications for the ways in which we approach education. Incremental changes to the education system are not enough. We need to put the needs of young people first and prepare them for the reality of the world beyond the classroom. If this doesn’t happen:
• Individual wellbeing will suffer, with a reduction in productivity
• The needs of the economy will not be met; the skills mismatch between workers and the job market will contribute to high youth unemployment
• Communities will continue to fracture; with both a rise in disenfranchisement and isolationism
• Complex modern problems requiring advanced thinking and collaboration will remain unsolved, with individuals ill-equipped to address key issues effectively. As communities fracture and divisions become increasingly prevalent across borders, the need to come together anew and act on time sensitive global challenges is increasingly urgent
Whether you look at this from a moral, economic or social angle, the answer is the same – we need to reimagine education from the point of view of what young people, communities and businesses really need.
In doing so, we must dare to question WHAT students learn, HOW they are taught, HOW their learning is measured and WHO is teaching them.
Thomas Schaedler, 27 February 17