In January, Big Change managing director, Essie North was invited to sit down and chat with OECD education director, Andreas Schleicher at the 2019 LearnIt World Conference.
Learnit annually brings together education’s global community and leads an intellectually honest conversation about the current state, and the future of education.
On the main stage, Essie and Andreas got stuck in to a discussion about fit-for-purpose 21st century learning.
Here’s a roundup of what we learnt from them:
Big Picture – The aim of change
Essie raised the question: “How do we capitalise on this moment for change where economic, social and personal cases for change are coming together?”
Andreas responded that a paramount concern has to be an education system that is fit for purpose – but even pinning down what that purpose is can be a challenge. He said we have an education system still designed on a Victorian blueprint, with long holidays reflecting the need for children to help out in the fields and terms to fit in with the seasons.
Andreas acknowledged that our education system may have adapted reasonably well to the demands of the industrial age, but asked how do we move from a system that doesn’t just reproduce wisdom, but also builds the environment to have young people question norms?
Beyond this, he observed: “The advent of AI means we have to rethink what learning means for us as humans.”
One clear opportunity for development in encouraging change and a willingness to take risks, according to Andreas, is to learn from the direction of travel elsewhere. If we need to teach young people to take risks, be curious and try things, it’s surely important to bring innovators together to provide mutual support and encourage a gradual shift in cultural mindsets.
Why change is needed
A recent OECD survey showed that only 23% of teachers feel they are in an innovation-friendly environment, but bringing them together would help get innovations out of the classroom and into the wider system. AI is not the enemy here; intimidating as it can seem at first. AI can be leveraged to enthuse students, make learning more engaging, make teaching more exciting and attractive and – the perennial plea – give educators more agency.
For those concerned that this sounds like an expensive fantasy given the current state of the education budget; short term actions for systems change don’t always require financial investment as much as prioritising a mindset of collaboration and empowerment.
Key recurring themes included “spreading opportunities”, “sharing ideas” and “providing platforms for sharing innovations in learning”.
Essie and Andreas’s discussion of ‘bright spots’ in the education space also concluded that leaders that know how to build trust and collaboration, and don’t work in a top down way are the most successful in setting the groundwork for teachers to build on – so it’s often a case of building on existing knowledge rather than reinventing the wheel.
Helping students keep pace with a fast-changing technological world that can be hard to navigate safely at times, can spark some concern. But there are some hopeful trends that a paradoxically more human education system is emerging. Learning environments are already being transformed as some of our old paradigms shift, and the OECD’s Education 2030 is already becoming a reality.
It’s an everyone issue
The link between education and business can be controversial: pragmatism is essential and future employability is always a factor, but few teachers or parents want to believe that the primary purpose of school is to train children to be productive workers.
But as Andreas put it: “We need to educate first class humans, not second-class robots.”
A dialogue between those who set the education agenda and the businesses where the students of today may spend much of their adult lives is crucial both to the economy and to the health and wellbeing of the students themselves.
So, it’s an encouraging sign that Education featured on the Davos agenda for the first time this year, as the challenge of how to keep pace with the demands on human capacity and the changing ways in which we think and work is one we all have a vested interest in getting right for the future.
Can you hear the young?
Something which may seem obvious, and is crucial in the design of an education system that prepares young people for their futures, is of course young people themselves. The OECD’s Trends Shaping Education report clearly outlines a need for young people’s voices to be heard and accepted. Human agency is needed to design a system that recognises the breadth of wellbeing, knowledge and skills required to offer learning relevant for an ever-changing future.
Andreas noted that at the end of all of it we must capture the right kind of data and develop measures of assessment that go beyond the limited scope of academic testing. Because young people’s individual and collective success relies on who they grow to be in their whole selves, not just in exam conditions.