By Kate Robinson, Editor in Chief, HundrED.
Education is a human system. Sir Ken Robinson describes it as being ‘not an impersonal, inert engineering system, it’s constantly in flux and changing. It exists in the actions and activities of people every day.’ This means that, as with all human systems, it is unpredictable and subject to influence by any amount of circumstances – making it impossible to guess what the future of education will look like.
How the next 100 years of education should look however, depends on a number of factors, including what the purpose of education is believed to be, and whom education is believed to be for. With that in mind, we turned to 100 education thought leaders, influencers and change makers from across the world to discover their views.
The first, if not totally surprising, point to make is that not one of our interviewees put forward an argument that current methods of schooling are adequately preparing students for the needs of the world they live in. That being said, Keri Facer, Professor of Educational & Social Futures at the University of Bristol, UK, advises that ‘the idea that we definitely can [fully prepare students] is a bit risky … Education is part of a much wider set of factors that are going to help young people survive and thrive over the next 100 years.’
Still, there is no denying that education certainly should be playing a significant role in equipping our children with the tools they require for life in the 21st century. Across the board, our interviewees repeatedly raised concerns about the way children and young people are currently being educated. These range from too narrow a focus on academic skills, to counter-productive learning environments, to assessment that is far too standardised and not based on real-world concepts that students can relate to.
That’s not to say that they imply that we are purposefully and maliciously setting our kids up for failure. As Sugata Mitra, Professor of Education Technology at Newcastle University, put it: ‘it’s not as though we are being evil for the sake of being evil. It is just that we are in the grip of two things: one is history, and the other is exponential change.’
Undeniably, education needs to be personalised as schools are made up of real, one of a kind people. Standardisation may be convenient for adults trying to tackle accountability, but by trying to educate all children in the same way we are letting them down spectacularly. ‘We’ve pretended to be doing the best for kids but we haven’t really,’ argues Stephen Heppell, ‘we’ve got to start by wondering how good kids might be and then go from there, rather than wondering how convenient things could be.’
So how do your personalise education? Andy Hargreaves of Boston College, USA, amongst others, believes that ‘learning how you learn’ is a critical skill that schools should be encouraging. Helping students to discover how they each learn best is the first step in personalisation. Once students feel empowered to take an active role in their learning experiences, the teacher can then work in partnership with them to best suit the needs of the class and the individuals in it.
Learning to learn is just one skill raised in our interviews that our interviewees feel schools have a responsibility in encouraging. In addition to traditionally valued skills such as numeracy and literacy, leaders in the field are also calling for an additional set of competencies to take centre stage.
Exactly what to call this skillset falls under a variety of names – 21st century skills, life skills, soft skills, or non-cognitive skills, to name just a few. ‘Whatever the language,’ says Anthony Mackay, CEO, Centre for Strategic Education, Australia, ‘it is clear that we need to attend to an expanded conception of skills and dispositions in addition to knowledge and understanding.’
Ultimately these are the essential life skills required in modern day life, including: communication, collaboration, creativity, resilience, grit, and critical thinking. ‘Rather than defining education through a group of subjects,’ suggests Sir Ken Robinson, ‘I think it is better to think of the competencies people need to make their way in the world now and to engage with the world the way it seems to be evolving.’
Another hope raised is for education to embrace digital technology. HundrED is not an edtech specific project, but it is impossible to attempt a complete look at the next 100 years of education without acknowledging the impact of this. As Anneli Rautiainen of the Finnish National Board of Education puts it, we can’t ‘continue to make progress without embracing digitalisation as a part of learning or teaching.’ Edtech is not a phase, it is an integral part of our future. Of course, that is not to say that digitalisation will solve all of education’s problems. ‘It’s really important that we don’t see technology as being the panacea for engaging kids,’ cautions Dan Haesler, international speaker, educator, writer and consultant, ‘it’s about what we’re asking them to do with that technology, and asking them how they can empower themselves to connect and find real value in what they are doing.’
It is also important to mention that digitalisation in education is not implemented at the cost of outside, real-world learning. The value of embracing nature and alternative learning environments is something brought up time and time again. For example, Abdul Chohan, CEO of the Essa Academies Trust (Essa Academy in Bolton was the first school in the UK to equip each student with an iPad) makes the point that ‘the world is really a classroom you should be able to go out and explore’. The matter then to consider is how best to use technology to create a variety of learning experiences.
All of these changes require a different approach to teaching, and across the world the role of the teacher is already shifting. There is a dedicated and determined community of educators who are challenging the status quo in their schools and classrooms on a daily basis. This is crucial, as in the age of information the traditional role of the teacher as an all knowing vessel of knowledge has passed.
Sheizaf Rafaeli, Founding Director of the Centre for Internet Research, Israel, began teaching forty years ago: ‘when I started I was expected to know the answers. Every month that goes by I’m expected to know less because Google knows more than me.’
So what is the role of the teacher becoming? There is a phrase circulating the education world: ‘from sage on the stage to guide on the side.’ Cheesy and overused as the phrase may already be, it accurately describes what many believe the new role of the teacher to be. With endless amounts of content online, students need to be able to decipher which information is relevant and trustworthy, and which is not. Sugata Mitra describes the new dynamic between students and teachers as being ‘as though a group of you are going somewhere unknown and you have a trustworthy friend, who also doesn’t know where you are going, but who could be useful.’
This of course means that teachers need additional support in this transition. Susan Crichton, of the University of British Columbia, Canada, raises the point that ‘often we want teachers to teach in ways that they’ve never experienced as learners themselves, and then we wonder why they struggle to do that.’ Teacher training and support needs to be re-evaluated as we move into this next era of education.
Additionally, our interviewees feel that education should be global. A huge benefit of digitalisation is that it has made the world a much smaller place. Children today no longer live within the confines of their immediate communities. Former headteacher Carolyn Stuart, comments that students ‘can learn with anyone at all so long as they can reach them via the internet.’
Connectivity and global awareness are essential skills to promote in schools, as we can no longer pretend that global issues don’t affect us all. As Eileen Lento, Director of Marketing and Advertising at Intel Education, argues: ‘to be a participating citizen, you need to be educated to understand the complexities of the world in which we live.’
Of course, the negative implication of globalisation in education is that international league tables can be directly linked to extra pressure and stress on teachers and students to ‘beat’ rival countries. Instead of endorsing this approach of competition, we should be harnessing our awareness of other education systems to create an atmosphere of international collaboration. In fact, empowering students from across the world to connect may in fact light the fire that sends education reform into a whole new era. Stephen Heppell believes that ‘given the number of children we’ve got and the circumstances of the world, it’s very hard to not see education being transformed by children rather than for children.’
This is a critical point to make, and possibly the most important – children should be involved in shaping the future of education. The next 100 years of education should empower students to harness all of the tools and opportunities at their fingertips to take control of their own learning and experiences. Children and young people are not impartial bystanders, they are not test results, numbers or figures on a league table. They are invaluable to our shared future. They are the future.
Chandrika Bahadur, Director of Education Initiatives at SDSN, India asserts that ‘there is no country in the world that gives its citizens an equal and equitable right to a prosperous life without having invested in large scale public education.’ It is time we started including children in the conversation.
HundrED is a global, non-profit project aiming to bring together a vision of education for the next 100 years, collecting 100 innovations from Finland and a further 100 from around the world, along with commentary from global thought leaders. The findings will be documented as a book, a documentary, a series of international seminars and a toolkit for teachers, all shared with the world for free.
All insights have been gathered from HundrED findings, and all quotes have been taken directly from HundrED interviews. To read the full interviews, and learn more about HundrED visit www.hundred.fi
Notes to editors:
HundrED is a two-year project bringing together a vision of education for the next 100 years. For decades, the Finnish education system has been hailed as one of the best performing in the world. As part of the country’s centenary of independence in 2017, the idea of HundrED is to help Finland maintain its world-leading status in education. The project is being implemented by SCOOL, a Helsinki-based start-up providing innovative learning solutions for schools to encourage curiosity and cooperation.