Since the nineteenth century, social, technological and workplace dynamics have changed beyond recognition. And as trite as it is to say, things are accelerating at an unprecedented pace. However, the general ‘operating system’ of schooling, built on an industrial era paradigm, has not changed to keep pace. The industrial model of education is no longer fit for purpose. Recent Australian research analysing 4 million job advertisements confirms that contemporary organisations are just as interested in social and emotional ‘soft’ skills for their prospective employees. These enterprise skills are said to be transferable between careers, and include: problem solving, communications, financial literacy, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, digital literacy and presentation skills. While the General Capabilities in syllabi do prescribe many of these outcomes, they are generally applied in schools as an after-thought, a box-ticking exercise. Learning is not designed to achieve these outcomes, and thus it’s no surprise that these outcomes aren’t met.
This past week has seen the release of the Commonwealth’s ‘National Microcredentials Framework’, the long-awaited guide to defining microcredentials across higher education, vocational education and industry. Developed by a panel of university, industry and vocational education leaders around Australia in partnership with PWC, it maps out a common definition of these new ways of accrediting small chunks of learning — as small as one hour. Skill acquisition is a lifelong process, and requires a much more agile model than the current system affords.
The World Economic Forum’s 2020 report, ‘Schools of the Future: Defining New Models of Education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’, summarised the need for change thus:
“As globalization and rapid advancements in technology continue to transform civic space and the world of work, education systems have grown increasingly disconnected from the realities and needs of global economies and societies. Education models must adapt to equip children with the skills to create a more inclusive, cohesive and productive world.”
In a 2018 address, Andreas Schleicher, OECD Special Advisor on Education, put it more starkly:
“when we could still assume that what we learn in school will last for a lifetime, teaching content knowledge and routine cognitive skills was rightly at the centre of education. Today, the world no longer rewards us just for what we know –’ Google knows everything’ – but for what we can do with what we know”.
For boys, there is an added impetus to make learning more ‘real-world’. After concerns in the late 20th century of declining boys’ motivation for school in Australia, a government-funded review recommended that state and federal education systems should lead the international education community to develop ‘real world’ curriculum policies which value extra-curricula knowledge and learning experiences that will better engage boys.
There have, of course, been significant steps in recent years to make schooling more engaging and more personalised. Schools now focus on student wellbeing not just academic achievement, offer a dizzying array of extra-curricular activities and enrichment opportunities, and have a much stronger sense of how individual students are performing thanks to richer data and common standards. All of that is good and reflective of a noble desire to improve education for every student. Teachers and school leaders are working harder than ever to meet the learning needs (and many other needs!) of young people. And governments and parents are pouring more money into Australian schooling than ever before.
But unfortunately it’s not making enough of a difference. Policymakers concede that we are not making good progress on measures such as PISA, NAPLAN, and rates of student engagement and multi-dimensional wellbeing. International experts agree that our model of education has been slow to change. Much of the significant innovation in learning is taking place on the edges of or beyond the system, in alternative and micro-schools, online providers and platforms, and — most interestingly — as students ‘hack’ the system and design their own learning pathways.
The question all this raises is, ‘Will our children be ready for the world of work and life into which they are moving?’ Looking at the current educational pathway almost all children walk, the answer is not looking good.
If education in the 21st century needs to incorporate knowledge, skills and character development in order to prepare young people to be successful workers and flourishing citizens, what styles of teaching and learning will best achieve these aims? The dominant model of knowledge transmission by the teacher (as the ‘sage on the stage’) is argued to be less useful for future education than the role of facilitator (as the ‘guide on the side’) or even as strategic disruptor (as the ‘meddler in the middle’).
Various methods of student-centred pedagogy have been suggested, including: co-created learning, project based learning, personalisable education, inquiry learning, experiential education, product-oriented learning. Whilst each of these approaches are easily charicatured (think bean bags and chaos!), there is a strong and growing body of rigorous research and design around these pedagogical approaches. Some common factors amongst them:
- Students are given some choice in the shape, content or timing of their learning.
- Students need to work together collaboratively.
- Learning has an open-ended design, requiring students to solve a problem or create an idea or product.
These pedagogies require some upskilling of teachers who are trained in the traditional model, and some ‘unlearning’ of established attitudes and habits on the part of students and parents. Of course, this does not mean that traditional direct instruction is no longer a useful pedagogy. To borrow an analogy from a trades context, teachers need to expand their pedagogical toolbox rather than replacing it with an entirely new one. I recently visited a boys’ school in Western Sydney that has successfully transitioned its whole approach towards a rigorous project-based and applied learning model across Years 7-12, and seen its NAPLAN and HSC results improve such that it is one of the top-performing non-selective schools in the state.
In next week’s newsletter we plan to share the ways in which we have been experimenting and learning with our staff and students about successful approaches to new forms of learning for boys.
Mr Jeff Mann
Coordinator of Student Experience
Dr Hugh Chilton
Director of Research and Professional Learning