Category Archives: Education Futures
I’ve spent some of the time over the past few days preparing for two conferences that are coming up next week – the first being the NPDL Southern Deep Learning Lab in Christchurch, and the second being the huge ULearn conference – being held this year in Rotorua and expecting nearly 2000 educators from all over New Zealand. Each event provides an opportunity for educators to delve more deeply into the things they’re interested in and to be exposed to a wide range of new ideas and new thinking that they can translate back into their context.
As I look through the abstracts and programme for ULearn this year, I am heartened to see a distinct change in the themes and topics that are the focus of the three days. Alongside the usual array of workshops sharing new ideas for using technology in the classroom, there is a more significant focus on the ‘bigger picture’ issues impacting our education system – consistent with the themes of the conference , and the focus on Transformation that is common across this year’s keynote speakers.
Seems to me that now, more than ever before, we need to create room in our busy lives to take time for this sort of thinking, as now more than ever before, we’re facing times of exponential change in all facets of our lives – including education! In these exponential time we are faced with a number of wicked problems that will require much thought, consultation and innovation. They cannot be solved by the simple stroke of a politician’s pen to implement some new strategy, neither will the be solved by learning about some new app that one can install on a tablet to assist with reading.
As part of my preparation for the conference I’ve been reviewing a number of the ‘big ideas’ that are impacting education at present – and pondering these in light of the various political agendas that seem to be driving change at present. One of the things that set me thinking along these lines was the release of the draft report from the Productivity Commission on New Models of Tertiary Education (PDF). Not surprisingly the draft report has drawn immediate reaction from a wide range of people – including politicians, universities, tertiary teacher unions etc. as it makes some very bold recommendations for what might happen in our tertiary sector.
What interests me in the report are the key messages that have emerged through the process of consultation so far, and how these have influenced the recommendations being made. These include…
- Need to agree on the purpose of education – focus on developing personal skills to live an enriched life, but includes public benefits too: a stronger civic society.
- Students are disempowered in the system – there needs to be a strong focus on placing students at the heart of the system, recognising the agency of learners, and the need to meet the needs of all learners, from diverse backgrounds and with diverse goals.
- High levels of regulation and compliance have the effect of perpetuating traditional approaches to tertiary education.
- A high degree of central control [of the system] stifles the ability of providers to innovate,
- Providers are more responsive to the government than to students.
- While some teachers and providers innovate, core business models have persisted i.e. there isn’t evidence of innovation at a system level.
- Inertia is an emergent property of the system – and government control is pervasive.
- Quality is a concern – the system appropriately seeks to ensure minimum standards are met, but overall the system lacks a mechanism for rewarding quality or responsiveness to students.
- The system is educating fewer students over time and continues to serve some population groups poorly.
Astute readers will recognise that many of these points are also made about the compulsory schooling system – in fact, similar points are made in almost all of the reports about education systems around the world at present. Not surprising then, are the familiar kinds of recommendations that have emerged, including…
- allowing more providers into the market – including those providing for international qualifications and those with different approaches such as MOOCs etc.
- breaking open the EFTS (currently measured in hours of ‘seat time) – allowing the introduction of innovative models of delivery
- giving institutions more autonomy and responsibility – including over all of its financial concerns
- promoting student access and mobility – mix and match courses from multiple providers to build their qualifications
Whether or how these recommendations are acted on will depend on the feedback in the next round of consultation – what we can be more certain of, however, is that the rate and pace of exponential change will continue to impact on us, demanding that changes are made to our system – and these must be transformational in nature, not simply incremental.
The video at the top of this post is a salient reminder of the types of issues we face – not because it is necessarily an accurate prediction of what the future may hold, but because of the way it captures and illustrates the potential futures that may emerge based on the actual present and recent past events that are a part of this exponential change in society. There are a lot of important indicators embedded in this video that are consistent with the messages coming through the Productivity Commission’s report, and as educators we will do well to deeply engage in the debates and issues – not devote all of our energy to the superficial themes that are distributed by the ‘sound bite’ journalists in the media.
The salient point of this video comes right at the end where the narrator attempts to conclude that there are two possible directions the future may take. The predictions are concerning at the very least, and verging on apocolyptic at worst – but serve to illustrate the point I am trying to make, that in the times ahead, the times that will define the future for the kids in our schools, for our own kids and grandkids, the challenges we face will be wicked problems (problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise) and to address them will require that we all are proficient in the skills of critical thinking/problem-solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration, and that we demonstrate the character qualities of curiosity, initiative, persistence/grit, adaptability, leadership, social and cultural awareness.
The fact is that we’ve needed to steer this course for some time now – but the fact is that our pace of change is being outstripped by the pace of change in the world in which we live and in the lives of our students!
As we make our way to the various conferences and events we have lined up over this student break, let’s be prepared to raise the level of our thinking and allow ourselves to be challenged, made uncomfortable and to engage deeply in the issues that we most urgently need to address. Or, as the move above warns, we will by default subject ourselves to the decisions of ‘the leader’ (whoever or whatever that may mean!).
Let’s face it – schools are primarily about kids and their learning. Sure, we need buildings, teachers, furniture, timetables and the like to support that, but the primary focus should be on them.
This is why I am personally very pleased to see the recent announcement from the Ministry of Education regarding the Education (Update) Amendment Bill. The current Act under which our education system operates places huge emphasis on the structures and governance of our schools, but less on the kids themselves – in fact learners and learning are barely mentioned. This would work well enough if all of our learners were uniform in terms of their learning needs and they were all happy to take whatever courses their local school can provide – but that’s no longer the case. The world has become an increasingly diverse place, creating increasingly diverse opportunities – and demands – for our young people. As a result, their expectations (and those of their parents and whānau) have changed – and many parts of our current education system are struggling to address this.
The proposed changes to the Education Act will provide greater flexibility for the system to respond to these expectations – now and into the future. As with any change it will be necessary to discuss and debate the detail in order to ensure there are no ‘unintended consequences’ – and I welcome that as part of a participatory democracy, as long as we can move beyond the ‘sound-bite’ journalism we are subjected to from the media and politicians.
One part of the proposed Amendment that appears to have drawn lots of attention already is the proposal to enable new partnerships between schools and online learning providers, and enable children and young people to access their education through online delivery. It is proposed that online learning providers will come from the schooling, tertiary education, and private sectors, and will be able to seek accreditation as a Community of Online Learning (COOL).
Much of the discussion has immediately focused on suspicions around the entry of private providers into the education system (as if that hasn’t happened for decades already). The debate around corporate support of Education is crucial to the continuation of a public education system that is free and available to all and I support that. But within the rigors of this debate let’s not confuse the issues. If the concern rests with corporate participation, then let the debate focus on that –but let’s not pour scorn on the opportunities that are being created for learners to have their learning needs meet in ways that may be more creative, more flexible and more relevant to their needs, culture and interests.
It’s good to see that the first COOL off the block will be Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura) – formerly the Correspondence School. This institution has been operating since 1922, catering for the needs of students who don’t “fit” the conventional education system – some because of isolation, some because of circumstance, and a good many because the areas of study they wish to pursue aren’t available to them in their local school – and so they become ‘dual enrolled’. What’s perhaps not as well known is that until now, Te Kura has operated under it’s own section of the Act, especially crafted to suit the way Te Kura operates as the provisions of the Act that applies to all other schools don’t work for it – for instance, the requirements around attendance, opening hours, staff contact etc.
As someone who used to work at this institution, I am very pleased to see that they will now be able to operate with greater flexibility and in a more coherent way with their site-based counterparts, particularly as around 50% of their over 20,000 students are already based in these schools.
The fact is that for over 90 years, Te Kura has been serving the education needs of a segment of our population who would otherwise have been denied the opportunity within the structure of site-based schools – and to my knowledge, they have done this as successfully as any other school. Many of our business leaders, politicians and even Prime Ministers have benefited from an education that has included time enrolled with the Correspondence School.
Learning at a distance in this way has always been about a choice for some, and the only viable option for others – either way, the quality of provision has ensured success for those participating as learners.
The prospect of this ‘distance’ engagement moving into an online environment brings with it even more opportunity, as well as issues to be addressed (i.e. equity, access, support etc.), but is nonetheless a welcome move in my view. And it’s not new! Te Kura have been using online technologies to engage with their students for over a decade, and around New Zealand, teachers in many of our remote and rural schools have been using online technologies to create opportunities for their students to access subjects of their choice for almost two decades.
The Virtual Learning Network (VLN) evolved from its beginnings in the early 1990s when a group of Area Schools in Canterbury started collaborating to enable their students to be able to access subjects being taught be teachers in schools other than the one they were physically attending. (Back in the day I coordinated and helped write a handbook to guide the development of these LCOs – how the cycles continue!) Around the same time many of the Kura in New Zealand began doing something similar to ensure their students could access their subject choices in Te Reo under the KAWM project. The data around students learning in these networks suggests that they are just as capable of experiencing success as their classroom-based counterparts – perhaps even more so. (Read more in my paper with Michael Barbour)
What these schools have in common is that in the interests of serving the needs of their students they have had to struggle with and become creative about the way they operate within the limitations of the current Act. Being unable to recognize students being enrolled with more than one school, or requiring a teacher to be a staff member at a specific school while their expertise may be spread among many are a couple of examples – along with the whole financial side of things which means money allocated to a student can only go to one school with no easy way of sharing that when that student may be accessing her or his learning from one or more other places. The changes proposed in the Act will, hopefully, allow a more equitable and fair way for these schools and teachers to operate within.
The important thing about these examples is that they aren’t about a “one-size-fits-all” approach. No-one is suggesting that learners spend the whole day in front of a computer, devoid of any social connection. Educational research strongly supports the fact that the role of schools in supporting children’s social and emotional development is just as crucial as their cognitive development. I’d argue that by creating the opportunities for learners to access the subjects they want from while still attending their local school gives them the best of both worlds. There are several schools in the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) that are now thriving because they have been able to retain their learners in the local community where their social and emotional needs can be nurtured and cared for, while also ensuring their academic potential is realized by providing access to high quality instruction in subjects of their choosing using online technologies. This is not to mention also the opportunity created for many of these teachers to grow and develop professionally while remaining as teachers in these rural settings.
This isn’t something only for rural schools – the opportunities apply equally in urban settings. While I was working at the (then) Correspondence School our records showed only two secondary schools in New Zealand that didn’t have students enrolled for distance education – which suggests that even in our urban schools, the limitations created by factors timetables and staffing availability mean that even there students’ needs can’t be fully met under the current structure. A good example for me arose in Christchurch following the earthquakes there where one secondary school that was (and still is) re-located as a result of damage joined the VLN to ensure its students could have access to a broad curriculum. Their roll stabilized, their community remains intact and they remain a part of the VLN today.
I am pleased to see that due attention is to be given to the accreditation and regulation of any COOL providers – as should be the case, and is with our current schools. According to the information released this week, COOL will have to meet criteria relating to their capability and capacity to deliver education to students in an online environment and some COOL will be subject to additional terms and conditions, like which students they can enrol. All COOL will be subject to a robust quality assurance regime, including requirements to meet specified student outcomes.
This is both good and necessary because, as has been reported this week, alongside the very successful models, there are some rather awful examples of attempts to introduce online learning into schools – particularly some of the US online charter schools. This is where the voice of informed educational and community leaders needs to be heard, and involved in the process of accreditation. Staff in organisations such as Te Kura, the VLN Community and the Flexible Learning Association of NZ (FLANZ) are all part of an established body of education professionals within our country who have been doing this sort of thing for many years now – they should be consulted to ensure the policy and implementation models are informed by experience and research evidence.
So let’s keep the discussions going, and tease out where the opportunities are, and where the potential risks and downfalls are. But let’s also focus our attention on what this is all really about – our kids, their future and how we can work together to ensure we create a system that is fully supportive of addressing that.
I've just been watching this film from the Let It Ripple Series titled The Adaptable Mind (11 mins) which explores the skills we need to flourish in the 21st Century. Like many other lists that have been created to define and describe the skills/knowledge/dispositions that are needed for the 21st Century (e.g. a previous post Driving the skills agenda), there are several familiar terms here:
- Multi-disciplinary thinking
The difference with this list that is so well illustrated in this short clip is that each of these things are in essence a part of what makes us human. There's nothing in this list about specific domains of knowledge, or specific technological skills etc. Even the STEM set isn't represented here. These five things have been the engine of innovation and survival since the beginning of civilisation. We're at a point in history where our human skills are just as important as our knowledge.
The challenge for schools and educators is to maintain a focus on these things amidst the pressure to also ensure we are addressing those fundamental pre-requisites of literacy and numeracy. We're fortunate in NZ that our National Curriculum has at its primary focus the Key Competencies around which the curriculum in our schools should be designed. New Zealand schools have the scope, flexibility, and authority they need to design and shape their curriculum so that teaching and learning is meaningful and beneficial to their particular communities of students.
So one would imagine that in such an environment we'd see amazing things happening in terms of the development of 'an adaptable mind' as this clip celebrates – and we do, but often in pockets rather than in a systemic way. The constant pressure to recognise and measure achievement in terms of the traditional subject areas can mitigate against efforts to develop a curriculum that will truly inspire and develop things like curiosity, creativity and initiative among our students.
As we enter a time in our system where the primary focus of attention will inevitably be on identifying and addressing specific achievement challenges in our schools and clusters of schools it will be important that those leading these initiatives are also abe to maintain a focus on the development of these deeper, more enduring skillsets.
As a father of five and grandfather of five also, I have high aspirations for my children and grandchildren, that indeed they will be proficient in the key skills that will enable to learn and be successful in their learning – but just as importantly, I want them to posses the quality of 'an adaptable mind' that is identified in this clip!
For my first blog post of 2016 I thought it appropriate to feature a 'future focused' piece. As the parent of an 18 year old who is currently assessing his career options I was interested to read this morning a report from the World Economic Forum titled The Future of Jobs that has just been released.
The report is premised on the idea that the world is currently in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. The authors argue that this revolution is not simply an extension of the digital revolution that began in the middle of the last century. While it builds on the developments of this revolution, it is significantly different in three ways: 1. the speed of the development, 2. the scope of what is affected, and 3. the impact on systems change.
Key drivers of change in this revolution are the emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.
This interests me as an educator as I consider how these things are (or aren't) reflected in our curriculum – not as an argument for introducing these as defined areas of study necessarily, rather, how seriously we need to consider the development of understandings, skills and competentices that will enable our young people to participate fully in a world where these things are shaping the way we live and the jobs we do. This is not simply an argument for increasing the focus on technical skills – a far wider set of skills and competencies will be required to thrive in this 'fourth revolution'.
On average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today, according to our respondents. Overall, social skills— such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.
This is not a new message – this thinking is exactly what informed and underpins the emphasis on key competency development in the New Zealand Curriculum! The perspective added by this report, nearly 15 years later, is the reinforcement of how important and urgent it is that we take our curriclum seriously, given the data revealed here about the shifts in job types and opportunities that are occurring.
While I hear a lot of talk among some of my colleagues about 'slowing down' and 'getting the basics right', we owe it to our mokopuna and tamariki to ensure that the things we prioritise in the precious time they are in our care at school take into account the sorts of trends outlined in this World Economic Forum report.
A key factor for educators and our education system is to consider how we might re-think our approaches in schools and tertiary insitutions, given that the exponential pace of change. During previous industrial revolutions, it often took decades to build the training systems and labour market institutions needed to develop major new skill sets on a large scale. Given the upcoming pace and scale of disruption brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, however, this is simply not be an option.
In the New Zealand context we are facing times of incredible change in our education system, including a review of our Education Act. The consultation process for this review is incredibly short – particularly given the scope of what the Act addresses and the complexity of issues that arise from it as we endeavour to operate an effective and efficient educaiton system within it.
One of the things the consultation process focuses on is making sure everyone knows the goals for education. According to the consultation documentation, the current Act doesn’t say clearly what the education goals for our children and young people are. The document claims:
[The Act] should describe what early learning and schooling should achieve for our children and young people, and say what things are most important to learners, parents, whānau, teachers, education services, businesses and the public. The Update should establish a way for national priorities about what is most important for education to be made clear, so schools and kura know what is expected of them, and can be sure that their planning is focused on the right things.
The consultation documentation identifies that we currently have multiple purpose/goal statements in documents such as the NZ Curriculum, Te Marautanga o Aotearoa and Te Whariki. We need to consider these collectively and identify what it is we have as our 'moonshot' goal for the NZ education system. The groups at the consultation sessions I've attended to date haven't really engaged with this in any depth – moving more quickly to some of the more detailed questions for conisideration – yet I can't help feeling that without a clear alignment on this first one it becomes difficult to answer any of the others. (Without a vision the people perish!) We see this currently in our education system where national priorities, no matter how well intended or valuable they may be, can simply emerge (and do so) at the whim of the Minister or senior officials.
This issue is not unique to NZ, and is the focus of systems around the world. I found it useful to read the Incheon Declaration for Education 2030, which sets out a new vision for education for the next fifteen years. It was developed by UNESCO together with UNICEF, the World Bank, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women and UNHCR at the World Education Forum 2015 in Incheon, Republic of Korea, from 19 – 22 May 2015, hosted by the Republic of Korea.
I really like the following from this document…
Our vision is to transform lives through education, recognizing the important role of education as a main driver of development and in achieving the other proposed [Sustainable Development Goals] SDGs. We commit with a sense of urgency to a single, renewed education agenda that is holistic, ambitious and aspirational, leaving no one behind. This new vision is fully captured by the proposed SDG 4 “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” and its corresponding targets. It is transformative and universal, attends to the ‘unfinished business’ of the [Eduation for All] EFA agenda and the education-related [Millennium Development Goals] MDGs, and addresses global and national education challenges. It is inspired by a humanistic vision of education and development based on human rights and dignity; social justice; inclusion; protection; cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity; and shared responsibility and accountability. We reaffirm that education is a public good, a fundamental human right and a basis for guaranteeing the realization of other rights. It is essential for peace, tolerance, human fulfilment and sustainable development. We recognize education as key to achieving full employment and poverty eradication. We will focus our efforts on access, equity and inclusion, quality and learning outcomes, within a lifelong learning approach.
Now that's a transformational vision! Imagine the possibilities and permissions there are within that statement, with it's emphasis on…
- inclusion and equity
- gender equality
- lifelong learning opportunities
How might we lift the level of conversation in our NZ Education Act consultation process to dig deep into these themes and issues, and consider how our Updated Education Act might create the platform for a wide range of truly transformative activity in our schools and communities, rather than attempting (as it does now) to manage our system with an unecessary amount of minute and detail that belongs more appropriately in the subsequent policy documents and priority statements that will change and evolve over time.
The buzz words around many areas of education at the moment include STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and the Maker Movement – both of which emphasise 'hands-on' learning and 'learning by doing', emphasising engagement in real world problems and the use of design principles and approaches.
This interest has been building for some time now – Mark Osborne discusses the Maker Culture in CORE's Ten Trends in 2014, noting that active learning increases the rate of learning faster than passive learning. Simply watching others build or make things fire up parts of our brain that are left untouched by passive learning.
Mark is one of the featured speakers at this year's pre-conference workshop day titled Permission to Play, which will provide an opportunity for the sharing of ideas and activities that are taking place in classrooms around NZ.
In his Trends talk, Mark references the fact that the idea of making, of building, of constructing has a strong basis in research. Seymour Papert introduced us to the notion of Constructionism in his book Mindstorms, back in the 1980s, and since then there has been a growing body of experience and literature supporting the call for more of this sort of experience in our schools.
Thus I have been interested to see the release of a document from MakerEd titled MakerSpaces – Highlights of Select Literature (PDF download). This review looks at a selection of the latest discourse and thinking emerging from the growth of makerspaces and their developing roles in education and communities.
Not motivated by the same political agendas that lie behind the STEM movements in many countries, this publication provides a useful read for those wishing to get their head around the Maker Movement and its impact in schools. There are sections that explore the types and categories of maker space that are emerging around the world, a whole section on benefits for participants and one on the interdisciplinary roles of maker spaces which has to be one of the defining benefits of this movement in my view.
From the section on benefits to participants I particularly liked this quote:
“ … the most important benefits of maker-centered learning are neither STEM skills nor technical preparation for the next industrial revolution. Though these benefits may accrue along the way, the most salient benefits of maker-centered learning for young people have to do with developing a sense of self and a sense of community that empower them to engage with and shape the designed dimension of their worlds."
At the end of the day this is what we ought to be striving towards in our education system – not simply that our young people will be equipped to get a job in the modern world, but that they will be equipped as individuals and as human beings to live as citizens in tht world and contribute in positive ways to creating a 'decent society'.
There's been a lot of discussion among my colleagues at CORE Education recently about the nature of transformation, and what this looks like in education. Stories emerge daily in our media of how our existing education system is failing to adequately address the needs of current students such as this one about Auckland's education story or this one about our 'broken' assessment system. So where are the stories of where innovation is challenging traditional educational systems and models in a practical sense?
We do have some great examples of innovative practice here in NZ, as highlighted by the Prime Minister's excellence awards, or browsing the case studies on the NZC Online site or the enabling eLearning site for example. There's so much we can learn about innovation and the transformation process from such stories.
With this in mind I was encourged recently to find this site from InnoveEdu featuring 96 initiatives from around the world. Each story presents meaningful learning experiences connected with the demands of the 21st century, distributed among five categories. Curated by Porvir, in partnership with Edsurge, Innovation Unit and World Innovation Summit for Education, InnoveEdu presents a wide range of ideas. Entries range from technological tools to facilitate teachers' jobs, to government policies to transform pedagogical practice in public education systems.
There's a useful filter you can use to locate the stories that will be most interesting to you, with three key sections:
- Innovation – which differentiates between the type of innovation – disruptive or incremental
- Where – locating the innovation within the school, community, home or online context
- Trend – focusing specifically on one or more of five trends identified by the project as being hallmarks of innovative education experiences; 21st century skills, personalised learning, hands-on learning, community based learning and new credentials (including new forms of assessment).
Using this framework, each case study is presented in a way that allows you to easily access the key points and make comparisons between and across a range of contexts.
This is a great site to be exploring on a Winter weekend 🙂
So much of the work I do currently involves working with education leaders and school communities who are confronted with change as a result of one or a combination of new buildings, investment in technology or adopting modern learning practices. Typically there is a mix of reaction, from those who are keen to embrace the changes through to those who fiercly resist, preferring to defend the traditions of the past.
Whatever the reaction, we need to recognise that we are living in a world characterized by change, complexity and paradox. These changes signal the emergence of a new global context for learning that has vital implications for education. It requires that we revisit the purpose of education and the organization of learning.
Here's a great new release from UNESCO titled The Future of Education – Towards a global common good (PDF downlaod) that explores the context for this change at a global level. This report reconsiders the purpose of education and the principles that govern education and knowledge as common goods. The publication is intended as a call for policy dialogue and as a platform for research on the future of learning, but makes for excellent reading for those interested in education from whatever level of the system they are involved in, whether principals, teachers or parents.
The report argues that the complexity of today’s world requires a comprehensive approach to education policy embedded in a better understanding of the way in which knowledge is created, controlled, disseminated, acquired, validated and used. It also requires further development of the ethical principles that govern education and knowledge as common goods.
I found reading this both refreshing and challenging. Too often the dialogue around educational change is anchored in the surface features of schooling – and in the materialistic context of NZ, focuses on things such as decile ranking, status, architecture, resources etc. instead of the outcomes in terms of what will best serve the future of our nation and our planet. This quote from the foreword by Irina Bokova Director-General of UNESCO, emphasises my point:
There is no more powerful transformative force than education – to promote human rights and dignity, to eradicate poverty and deepen sustainability, to build a better future for all, founded on equal rights and social justice, respect for cultural diversity, and international solidarity and shared responsibility, all of which are fundamental aspects of our common humanity.
Of course, a particular interest for me is the perspective on the impact of digital technologies, and how the ways in which the emergence of a 'cyber culture' is likely to shape and change our modern world. Here's the section from the report that deals with this (p.26):
One of the defining features of development today is the emergence and expansion of the cyber world, stimulated by the spectacular growth in internet connectivity and mobile penetration. We live in a connected world. An estimated 40 per cent of the world’s population now uses the internet and this number is growing at a remarkable rate.35 While there are significant variations in internet connectivity among countries and regions, the number of households with such links in the global South has now overtaken those in the global North. Moreover, over 70 per cent of mobile telephone subscriptions worldwide are now in the global South.36 Five billion people are expected to go from no to full connectivity within the next twenty years. However, there are still significant gaps among countries and regions, for example between urban and rural areas. Limited broadband speed and lack of connectivity hamper access to knowledge, participation in society and economic development.
The internet has transformed how people access information and knowledge, how they interact, and the direction of public management and business. Digital connectivity holds promise for gains in health, education, communication, leisure and well-being.38 Artificial intelligence advances, 3D printers, holographic recreation, instant transcription, voice-recognition and gesture-recognition software are only some examples of what is being tested. Digital technologies are reshaping human activity from daily life to international relations, from work to leisure, redefining multiple aspects of our private and public life.
Such technologies have expanded opportunities for freedom of expression and for social, civic and political mobilization, but they also raise important concerns. The availability of personal information in the cyber world, for example, brings up significant issues of privacy and security. New spaces for communication and socialization are transforming what constitutes the idea of ‘social’ and they require enforceable legal and other safeguards to prevent their overuse, abuse and misuse. better prepare new generations of ‘digital natives’40 to deal with the ethical and social dimensions of not only existing digital technologies but also those yet to be invented.
I've just been browsing this recently released report from the Economist Intelligence Unit titled The skills agenda: Preparing students for the future which draws attention to the challenge in education to prepare our current students with the skills and knowledge they'll require to participate fully in the future, in particular, in a digitally-enabled future.
The EIU embarked on a research programme, sponsored by Google, to examine to what extent the skills taught in education systems around the world are changing. For example, are so-called 21st-century skills, such as leadership, digital literacy, problem solving and communication, complementing traditional skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic? And do they meet the needs of employers and society more widely?
Their key findings are:
- Problem solving, team working and communication are the skills that are currently most in demand in the workplace.
- Education systems are not providing enough of the skills that students and the workplace need.
- Some students are taking it into their own hands to make up for deficiencies within the education system.
- Technology is changing teaching, but education systems are keeping up with the transformation rather than leading it.
These findings are consistent with the work of many other reports I read in the course of my work, and very consistent with the work of a group I am part of here in Christchurch where I live comprising members of local IT-related companies, the local economic development agency and some educators. Key issues that this group are considering include the fact that while there is a bias toward increasing demand for employees to fill positions in the IT sector, there is a distinct lack of sufficiently skilled staff available to fill these roles, which in turn is becoming a barrier to companies being able to grow and achieve their organisational goals. The same concerns exist in other parts of NZ – in Auckland earlier this year a survey of 61,000 secondary school students found that less than 6 per cent had a qualification in basic ICT, raising concerns among the Auckland Business Leaders Group about the ability to find staff for the growing number of IT-relaed jobs appearing in the city.
The EIU report does contain several examples of where, at a strategic and systemic level, initiatives are under way that are addressing these issues, with students proved with opportunities at all levels of the school system to develop the range of digital literacies required to prepare them for their future. One example comes from New Zealand – featuring the work of the Manaiakalani Education Trust in Auckland (see page 11 in the report) where the provision of devices for each student has resulted in significant gains in learning for students, and preparation for their digital futures.
While these examples are something to celebrate and share more widely, for the bulk of our education system we are simply moving too slowly, and putting the future of our young people – and the economic future of our country – at risk because of our conservative approach. What we now know about knowledge building, skills transfer, how learning occurs etc. has yet to fully impact the changes in education that are necessary to provide the sorts of programmes and environments that will prepare our young people for these futures. As the report states in its conclusion:
This style of learning places new demands on teachers, who may themselves not be universally equipped with the competencies to lead a more fluid, interactive class. It also requires governments to be willing to rethink their approach to teacher training and professional development. It is no longer sufficient—if it ever was—that teachers are well versed in their subject. They must recognise that the skills a student acquires through learning are as important, if not more so, than the content, and be able to incorporate opportunities for the development of problem solving, collaborative, creative and communication skills into their teaching. These skills cannot be taught in isolation but must be present across the curriculum, embedded in the fabric of how teachers teach.
We have this happening in pockets aroun the country – but how can we link it up and ensure that every student in every school has these sorts of learning opportunities as a matter of course? This is what the transformation agenda is about!!!
As schools and teachers embrace modern learning practices there inevitably emerge a range of different beliefs about what works and why. Some of this becomes a part of the popular culture of education, and some of it even makes its way into policy at a national level.
Not everyone forms the same view, often leading to debates about what is 'right' and what is 'wrong'. What it really reflects is the differences in values and beliefs that drive our practice as educators. I read this week a Herald article about the decision of Auckland Grammar to stick with a more traditional approach to teaching and learning as they designed their new buildings. Here's a quote from the article that outlines very explicitly what the values and beliefs are in that school …
Headmaster Tim O'Connor said because Grammar's teaching style was to teach content, rather than focussing on student-led learning, the 12-classroom block's layout fitted it better. "Our teaching style is teacher-centered learning," headmaster Mr O'Connor said. "The key thing with the new classrooms are that they are wide not deep – so those in the back row are closer and it's all about the relationship between student and teacher."
In the rush to embrace modern learning practice there is inevitably a storng focus on the practices that may change – the practical, observable things that will impact on how things happen in schools. For example, the emergence of large, free-flowing spaces, moving from indiviudal desks to group tables etc. But these things alone will not change the effectiveness of our educational provision unless they are matched to our shared beliefs and values. It is there that we need to start – and continue to reflect and refine as we seek to develop an educaitonal approach that is relevant to the lives of our modern learners and their future.
What shapes and forms our beliefs is important. Our own school experience, our particular world view, political or religious perspectives and the influence of particular thought leaders are all key influences on our thinking when it comes to forming our values and beliefs about education. A key challenge is to ensure that we are critically engaged, and constantly reflecting on these things in order to distinguish between the ideas that have substance and those that have evolved as 'myths'.
An Edutopia article titled "8 myths that undermine educational effectiveness" exposes some of the ideas that are currently influencing or informing our practice. The 'myths' presented here provide a challenge to some of the things that we may be adopting in our own mindsets – or feel that we're obliged to work within. The key point here is the reminder that we need to remain vigilant as educational professionals and be continually assessing and being critically engaged with the new ideas and thinking as they emerge.