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Three big ideas on the future of education

April 13, 2021

Great, you may say. We came here to read about the future of education and you give us frameworks. One thing education is not short on is frameworks. There are frameworks to explain theories, pedagogies, competencies, outcomes and methodologies. There are even frameworks to explain frameworks.But when the OECD, The World Economic Forum and UNESCO all publish frameworks on the future of education, even the most framework-fatigued among us tend to stop and have a look.We are experiencing tremendous uncertainty right now, and the future seems anything but stable. The volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world ahead demands new solutions. Just seven pages into their recent report on "lost learning" from the COVID19 impact, the OECD's own report drops this particular bombshell:"Results from OECD's PISA assessments show that there was no real overall improvement in the learning outcomes of students across OECD countries over the last two decades, with no pandemic, and despite many educational reforms and rising expenditure"Learners have not necessarily "lost" learning during the pandemic. Learning happens all around us in myriad ways, and is not the sole province of schools and universities. What is perhaps true is that learners have lost progress towards outcomes which have already stagnated for 20 years regardless of circumstances.While grass roots learning theorists, agitators and thought leaders all clamour for change, two in five UK K-12 teachers say they will quit within a few years, and 55% of US College teachers this year reported seriously considering a change of career or early retirement. Much is changing bottom up through the relentless heroism of teachers and educators and a rising voice of the learner, but what about the view from the very top?We look at how the big three see education in the years ahead, and reflect on what that might mean for our learners in schools and universities.

The OECD Learning Compass

The OECD's Future of Education and Skills 2030 initiative has come to a head with the dissemination of the Learning Compass. Why a compass? This is a nod to the need for learner agency and self-direction to navigate the challenges of the future. Truthfully, this is an encouraging start.They describe it as "aspirational", and aimed at individual and collective wellbeing. The OECD even acknowledge that this notion of wellbeing goes far beyond "the economic and the material". Are we moving towards ditching the pursuit of GDP in favour of Gross Domestic Happiness, as the Bhutanese have done for a long time? Time will tell.What stands out to us is that they say it is not framed by assessments and rubrics as it acknowledges learning can happen formally and informally anywhere and not just in school. They did just do a 150-page report about the huge extent to which learners "lost learning" by not being in school in 2020-2021, but hey.Let's give this one a chance. There is lots of good in here, even if it does fall short of addressing the wider systems of education that might support its integration. At least there is a focus on agency, wellbeing and crucially, wider community involvement. Have a look and see what you think.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3u1AL_aZjI&ab_channel=EduSkillsOECD

The world Economic Forum's Industry 4.0 revolution

The fourth industrial revolution gets a section all to itself because, well, it is going to change absolutely everything. If education is preparing us for the world ahead and the professions we might follow, we cannot look at this without addressing the impending impact of technology.Technology has been changing our lives for years in numerous ways, but the pace is gathering. The WEF themselves tell us that the change will be exponential, fundamentally altering systems and governance the world over. Got your attention? It has certainly caught our imagination.The video below outlines 4.0 in more depth and detail, but with 50% of current jobs becoming automated by 2030, AI, VR, augmented reality and big data changing the way we learn and interact, education must be ready for this come what may.https://youtu.be/kpW9JcWxKq0How does it effect education? In a world of uncertainty, and where the jobs that will exist cannot currently be even imagined, we need to let go of our focus on knowledge and standardized testing. We need a focus on skills and competences and lifelong, liquid learning. Knowledge quickly becomes obsolete, but skills grow. Knowing something is great until it becomes useful, but knowing how to learn will serve you whatever comes around the corner.Any institution or organization that is not preparing learners in this way, creating space for learner-directed problem solvers and cognitively flexible adaptive thinkers, is not ready for the future. Dr John Baruch agrees, as he will tell you in this video about educating for the 4th industrial revolution.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4l_THuN9QxE&ab_channel=TEDxTalks

UNESCO Futures of Education - Learning to Become

future of education 2

UNESCO has a broader scope for the future of education, and a bolder one too. Full disclosure: the report will not be finished until November 2021, but we already know the parameters.The grammarians among us may have noted the plural use of "futures", and thought we had simply typed this pre-coffee. In fact, it is a deliberate acknowledgement that there are many possible futures as we enter uncertain waters.The age of the third industrial revolution did cause us a few small problems such as the wholesale destruction of our planet, and the idea that our education systems were basically factories to prepare learners for a future of contribution to the economy and the grand old GDP. Thanks.These times were, however, somewhat linear. There was a vague sense of predictability. Governments fell, but others took their place. Economies collapsed, but bounced back. Not so with the next thirty years. The threat to our world through climate change is existential, and the changes through technology and shifting socio-political currents will need careful navigation.UNESCO has reached out broadly for evidence-based thinking on how we meet this world. And this means the whole world, rather than the privileged alone. They have asked the question "what do we want to become", and how learning can support that.In such pressing times we were disappointed to learn that the report's publication leads not directly to a global policy agenda but...a global debate! The policy comes after, and so we must remain patient. Take a look below at their vision. We admit, it gives us some sense of hope.https://youtu.be/7865y7hbehY

Where to next?

It is time for big ideas, but we also need action. At NEO Academy we talk every week to people in education all over the world, and we see such a push towards change from the bottom up. The view from the very top, it would appear, is beginning to swing around to agree with the changemakers and dreamers that advocate for a total transformation of education systems with great urgency. Companies are already on board, and have known for a long time that education needs a serious injection of the real world.In the middle, we have the policymakers at government level, and the heads of accreditation bodies. What must they think with change swirling all around them? When these scattered voices become a chorus, we may just find the harmony we seek. Will you add your voice to ours?

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