Education is a vital investment in ‘human capital’ for the 21st Century

Sep 4, 2020 | News

An essential element of education and a moral duty for those involved is the obligation to raise morale, motivation, and self-esteem of young people in schools.  If we are committed to preparing those in education for playing a fulfilling and purposeful role in their own future, we need to look further than just improving literacy and numeracy, stem the desire for increased knowledge rich curriculum, and find alternatives to limited, fixed, or end point one-off assessments.

If countries are to unlock their economic potential and build social cohesion, the potential of its young people needs to be realised, recognised, and actively sought.  Education must develop young people’s capacities for original ideas and action, whilst also enabling them to engage positively with the growing complexity and diversity of social values and ways of life.  All of this impacts on the core elements of education – from classroom pedagogy and assessment, the balance of the curriculum, and promoting strong and real partnerships between schools and the wider world.

Now, more than ever, global education needs to look for a new balance – in the construction and establishment of national and international prioritise; in the structure and organisation of the school curriculum; in the methods of teaching and assessment (please see other blog on assessment); and the ways in which we choose our key-stakeholders and decision makers.

Over the years, education has followed a path which was laid out over 100 years ago.  Full of ridged protocol, expectations, and siloed ‘choice’ – Is it Arts, or Science?  Where it may have previously served a purpose, there is growing recognition that in todays world of globalisation, rapid change, and increased desire for innovative practice; education does more to hold back the very people it is there to serve – playing more into the hands of those interested in data sets, flightpaths, and the malleable concept of success.

Education throughout the world is facing unprecedented challenges, only increased by recent events stemming from the school closures due to the global pandemic.  However, the economic, technological, and social challenges which were in existence before, have not gone away – they have increased exponentially.  Although it is not hard to find credible quotes from policy-makers and those in authority emphasising the need to develop a ‘holistic’ approach, there appears to be little in terms of applying new approaches which are based on the broader requirements of todays’ society, or to the increased importance of the diverse competencies, skills and behaviours that todays’ young people require.

On all levels of education – from national policy to the individual school, there are differing view points on what is best, often revolving around either a debate on ‘Knowledge Heavy Curriculum’, verses ‘Learner Centred Approach’; or ‘Intense Numeracy and Literacy’, verses ‘Creativity and Innovation’.  However, these arguments stem from a previously held assumption on what education is, how it is structured, how it is delivered, and how it should be measured.  To be able to really make progress in these debates, we need to reassess ‘where learning happens’ and more importantly, ‘what learning is’ (please see previous blog on ‘Have we been struggling for the right reasons?); having done this, we will be more able to appreciate how both are equally important, and are complimentary rather than opposing objectives.

Success, ability, competency all come in many different forms.  It is to our detriment to define them only by traditional means and academic criteria.  In a world where knowledge has been commoditised, and as Andreas Schleicher of the OECD pointed out “In the future you will NOT get paid for what you know but HOW you apply what you know”, education has the moral obligation to seek out the capabilities of all young people beyond the traditionally academic – those who succeed in a traditional setting may have abilities which are neglected, and those whom struggle may have outstanding abilities in areas not currently valued in the classroom.

We live in a fast-moving world, and the demands of education need to respond.  As Google’s Vice President (Bryant) stated back in 2013 “Academic environments are artificial environments.  People who succeed there are conditioned to succeed in that environment”.  Employers / Business demand people who can adapt, see connections, innovate, communicate, and work with others; and with the growth in ‘knowledge-based economies’ and ‘learning societies’, this demand will only increase.

These issues are essential to the overall quality and standards of education, they are also difficult in terms of definition, policy, and practice, and require both open and honest dialogue and new structures to support them.  Teachers and those involved in teaching understand the contextualised nature of their profession; however, making the change, or creating the environment where change can occur, is not often easy.  It requires acknowledgement from the systems around them, policy to support them, and the opportunity to take risks.  At Imagine Education, we have been working alongside Teachers, School Leaders, National Governments, NGO’s, and Global institutions to do just that.  The ultimate goal, to influence the ‘Professional Behaviours of Teachers’ through a combination of embedding tangible frameworks for change, working alongside the systems and ‘professional bodies’ which are in a position to support this change, shifting the focus of assessment from ‘one-off end point exams’ towards ‘multiple and ongoing records of achievement’ through the implementation of ‘Point of Learning’ assessment systems, and creating an environment which promotes innovation through establishing Communities of Practice.  To find out more about how Imagine Education has been doing this, please see (link to Case Studies webpage).

What happens next can not be about doing what we have done in the past ‘better’ but must be concentrated on aligning the purpose and methodology with the present.  As the McKinsey report into ‘How the World’s best-performing school systems come out on top’ states, it is “investing in teachers that matters most if you wish to improve student outcomes and performance”.

As we look forward, we need to recognise that Education is a shared experience and will not stop at the formally recognised ‘life junctions’ of 16, 18 or post university but will be continuous; that Education will not be the sole jurisdiction of schools and universities but require extended relationships with a diverse range of stakeholders; that knowledge, skills, and behaviours sit in competencies of interdependence and are socially situated; and that assessment requires to shift from the focus on secondary evidence towards the use of primary evidence based on observation of practice and its impact.