Defining new models of education

Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash

Educators, policy makers and politicians the world over have been consumed with thinking about the future of education for some time now, with much of the conversation focused on the increasing ‘gap’ between the models of schools and schooling we persist with and the extent of change that is occurring in the world around us.

A report just released from the World Economic Forum caught my eye today – titled Schools of the Future; Defining new models of education for the fourth industrial revolution. It is the first output of the Forum’s Education 4.0 initiative, which aims to catalyse systems change by mobilizing a broad and innovative coalition of relevant stakeholders around new models, new standards and a new momentum for action to transform the future of education. This report outlines a new framework for defining quality education in the new economic and social context and shares key features of 16 schools, systems and programmes pioneering the future of education. The report concludes:

There is an urgent need to update education systems to equip children with the skills to navigate the future of work and the future of societies. The Education 4.0 framework provides a vision for how school systems can be updated to deliver on children’s future needs. This transformation calls for shifts in learning content to include both the technical and human-centric skills needed to build growing and inclusive economies and societies and shifts in learning experiences that more closely mirror the future of work.

The WEF report identifies eight critical characteristics in learning content and experiences to define high-quality learning in the Fourth Industrial Revolution—“Education 4.0”:

  1. Global citizenship skills: Include content that focuses on building awareness about the wider world, sustainability and playing an active role in the global community.
  2. Innovation and creativity skills: Include content that fosters skills required for innovation, including complex
    problem-solving, analytical thinking, creativity and systems analysis.
  3. Technology skills: Include content that is based on developing digital skills, including programming, digital responsibility and the use of technology.
  4. Interpersonal skills: Include content that focuses on interpersonal emotional intelligence, including empathy, cooperation, negotiation, leadership and social awareness.
  5. Personalized and self-paced learning: Move from am system where learning is standardized, to one based on the diverse individual needs of each learner, and flexible enough to enable each learner to progress at their own pace.
  6. Accessible and inclusive learning: Move from a system where learning is confined to those with access to school buildings to one in which everyone has access to learning and is therefore inclusive.
  7. Problem-based and collaborative learning: Move from process-based to project- and problem-based content delivery, requiring peer collaboration and more closely mirroring the future of work.
  8. Lifelong and student-driven learning: Move from a system where learning and skilling decrease over one’s lifespan to one where everyone continuously improves on existing skills and acquires new ones based on their individual needs.

Of course, this sort of thinking is not new, and follows some excellent work that has been done nationally and internationally over the past two decades. At the turn of the century the OECD released their six Schooling for Tomorrow scenarios which depict a distinctive configuration resulting from societal change or failure to respond to such changes. These scenarios were used widely the world over to stimulate conversations at school and government level on what the future shape of schools and schooling should be like in order to adequately prepare our young people for their future.

Soon after, the Secondary Futures (Hoenga Auaha Taiohi) project was announced by the Minister of Education in September 2003. This projects aimed to incorporate input from all parts of New Zealand society in order to shape policy on secondary schooling in the future. Dr Stephanie Pride was a part of that process and provided a useful set of reflections and implications for government.

More recently a team from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research published a report for the NZ Ministry of Education titled Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching: A New Zealand perspective, which draws together findings from more than 10 years of research on current practice and futures-thinking in education. Their report discusses some emerging principles for future learning, how these are currently expressed in New Zealand educational thinking and practice and what they could look like in future practice.

The NZCER project was guided by three high level research questions:

  1. What could future-oriented learning and teaching look like, what ideas and principles underpin it and what makes it different from other teaching and learning practices?
  2. What are the conditions that enable future-oriented learning and teaching? What are the issues and challenges?
  3. How might transformational future-oriented learning and teaching approaches be promoted, enabled and sustained?

These questions arguably lie at the heart of what drives the quest to ensure our education system remains relevant and effective in a constantly changing world. As the school year begins, they could equally be used as the basis for some robust in-school discussions at Teacher Only Days and in professional inquiry groups, and from these discussions, decide on action around new ways of thinking about how schools will structure their working day, their curriculum, roles of teachers and involvement of community etc.

The WEF report just released focuses attention on the knowledge/skills/dispositions our young people need as they graduate from our institutions – to live, learn and thrive in a world of change and opportunity. These could also be used in Teacher Only Day discussions as a ‘filter’ for considering the extent to which these things are being focused on or developed through the curriculum and pedagogical practices in your school.

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