The pace of change is rendering our educational system obsolete and what is even scarier is that the pace of change will never be this slow again.
“The profile of our learners has changed. They are digital natives weaned on video games and Web 2.0, and have been described as “marching through our schools, carrying a transformational change in their pockets in the form of powerful multimedia handheld devices.” (Chen, 2010, pp. 213)
Our education system is not broken, but it is becoming obsolete. Why? Our current educational model was developed for the industrial revolution. It was designed to prepare workers for factory jobs, and the bottom line for us as a country, is that the knowledge and skills of workers available in the labour supply are a key factor in determining both business and economic growth. We now need some radical rethinking to create a system that prepares our children for an uncertain future with the skills that are needed, not just for today but also for tomorrow.
Since 2008, Britain has stagnated. The country may be 7% larger than its pre-recession peak, but productivity, or output per hour, has not progressed in ten years. The growth achieved has been driven by an expanding workforce, not by improving business practices or greater levels of efficiency. As a result, the measure of national wealth that matters to us as individuals, GDP per person has almost flat lined, rising by just over 1% since 2008.
Education is the most effective way of boosting productivity, but it is no quick fix. Britain’s ranking in the OECD’s international education league tables has nosedived in the past decade and the impact is being felt today. Improving education, both academic and vocational, is key. How many industries that were around 100 years ago are still around today? How many are making their products almost the exact same way? Can you think of an industry that uses almost the identical methods of production they did 100 years ago? Or one that hasn’t undergone radical industrialisation, innovation, or significant transformation?
Let me introduce you to one that has not significantly changed ‘the UK classroom’. Our method of teaching hasn’t radically changed over the past century. It’s stuck, it’s dated, and it’s in need of radical transformation. While there are bright spots the way the vast majority of our children are being taught, guided, and motivated is dated, bloated, inefficient, and a bureaucratic dinosaur. It lost sight and understanding of its consumer a long, long time ago.
Today, certification granted by years in school are the dominant certification of ‘learning.’ Yet, in almost all cases, these diplomas certify nothing other than the fact that the person in question spent x years in school. Education, is in large, part of the foundation on which our culture is built, and it should be the breeding ground for brilliance, optimism, and new thinking.
Traditional education is very top down, heavy handed, sit down and read, be quiet, don’t ask questions. There’s still a lot of room for innovation and educators have long seen a paradox. Children enter school with innate creativity but rarely leave that way. Sir Ken Robinson, a British researcher, illustrates this with a study of 1,600 children between the ages of 3 and 5. He tested on their ability to think divergently, generating ideas by exploring many possible solutions, a key to innovation 98% scored at genius level. Ten years later the same children were given the same test; only 10 %scored at genius level.
Schools are supposed to develop skills and capabilities while encouraging kids to “think differently” and maximise their abilities. Sadly, most schools are failing to do so today. The reasons rest within curricula that are not keeping up with the pace of change our world is undergoing.
There are some great teachers trying to respond. However, these are isolated areas of brilliance. A lot of teachers are set in their ways with little support to embrace change, and technology thrown in for good measure, often without a clear purpose. The challenge we face is that those who lead the agenda are products of the system and their thinking and structure are a reflection of their education and biases. Their argument is that the layout of an average classroom used today has changed a lot. They are convinced that the entrenched teacher centred methods have become a hybrid, one that incorporates a student-centred approach. What is scary, is that this is true. However, the change towards this hybrid approach is a result of having to deal with a larger number of students in one class rather than a real change towards fostering, collaboration and critical thinking among students.
So what needs to change?
Education must be free at the point of use and available universally and throughout life.
Education must be diverse, inclusive, accountable, sustainable and integrated to deliver high quality outcomes to the public, parents and children it serves.
The path to the future of learning must not include a ‘one size-fits all’ solution or an ‘either/or’ plan. Innovation, creativity, collaborations, technological advancements and entrepreneurship are essential part of responding to the future, education must break outside the traditional walls of the classroom. Rather than just accepting change, education needs to be the change and lead the change.
Both collaborative and authentic learning across boundaries and sectors must be used to promote global and digital citizenship to high standards of excellence and professionalism. All levels of skill and learning deserve respect. Academic, technical and other forms of learning must be integrated as well as respect.
To create the revolutionary change that is needed in education, we must now encourage the creation of disruptive innovations. We now see online education that is opening up new markets and disrupting the traditional models of learning. Our children who are born into an “open” world are demanding the use of more open and available materials on line or in new digital formats. Students must have more opportunities to learn at different times in different places. E-Learning tools will help to facilitate opportunities for remote and self-paced learning. Classrooms will be removed from the equation or flipped, which means the theoretical part will be outside the classroom, whereas the practical part can be taught face to face, or interactively.
We have seen traditional media come under threat from free and open content. This will also happen in education. We need to create a synergistic ecosystem that encourages all forms of learners to grow with the aid of personalised learning. Students will become more and more involved in forming their own curriculum. Maintaining a curriculum that is contemporary, up-to-date and useful is only realistic when professionals as well as learners are involved. Critical input from students on the content and durability of their courses is a must for the new learning program.
It is vital that we create a much greater desire to maintain and grow our creative and learning skills. To this end students’ critical thinking skills must be encouraged.
Teachers must become facilitators and catalysts for learning rather that those who dominate the agenda and play too much of a central role. Though every subject that is taught aims for the same destination, the learning journey to that destination may vary for different students. Similarly to the personalised learning experience. Students must be able to modify their learning process with tools that work for them. Students will learn with different devices, different programs and techniques based on their own Learning preferences. Blended learning, flipped classrooms and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) form important terminology within this change. Teachers must become facilitators and catalysts for learning of technology, online courses, facilitation, greater accountability and the opportunity to ensure that students learn to negotiate the world like never before.
Smart partnerships will need to be developed between educational institutions, business, and communities to share resources and infrastructure in the national vision to be a Global Centre of Excellence in Education.
By 2020, digital technology will be embedded and distributed in most of our personal artefacts. Our keys, clothes, shoes, notebook, and newspapers. These devices will have embedded within them the ability to communicate with each other. As a result, we will interact with these technologies in ways which are more seamlessly and invisibly integrated into normal activities. Our education systems can take advantage of these opportunities.
There is an opportunity for a brave new world of education, where a perfect storm, extreme financial constraints, a technological revolution, ground-breaking pedagogical research, and increased expectations from students facing weak job prospects, will force our educational system to reimagine their purpose.
Technology, and mobile specifically, is going to enable a bigger transformation in learning than any invention of humanity ever, from clay tablets onwards. What is scary, is that we don’t know it’s coming.