Small changes make a big difference

Oct 1, 2020 | News

As we look around, take stock, and reflect on the current local, national, and global picture, the inconsistencies, inadequacies, and contradictions surrounding us are more exposed than ever.  From health and financial to education and energy, we all find ourselves at historic crossroads where we face a choice of maintaining current systems or building a new approach to how societies function.

To achieve change and build towards a more equitable and profitable future, it is necessary to bridge the gap between public and private interests and institutions.  This might appear a task for those solely in policy and economic forums, however we all have a part to play – no more so than those involved in education.  If we are to truly realise a meaningful disruption to economics, politics and our everyday life; and with that catalyse a new approach to how our societies function and are run, we must first look at the way in which we develop our citizens.

Although at first this might appear to be far too big a challenge, let us start with 4 important building blocks which Education needs to make this happen: Mindset, Metrics, Incentives, and Connection.

Change our mindset. If we made it up once, we can make it again.  Much has been written about how mindset controls not only the method but also the outcomes.  For education, providing an environment where challenge and failure are part of the learning process encompasses so much more than focusing on delivering rigorous literacy, numeracy, and knowledge heavily curricular.  As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right.”

Create new Metrics. Measuring what matters will change everything.  In the same way that GDP measures the wrong things by measuring wealth and ignoring distribution, ‘End-point / One-off’ assessment of knowledge fails to provide students with what they need to take the brave and challenging steps required to move to a more innovative, people-centred, and enterprising way of living.  ‘What gets measured gets managed’, and with a new set of metrics focused on ‘Behaviours’ and ‘Competencies’ – assessed at the ‘Point of Learning’, education is able to play a meaningful role in developing the citizen of the future.

Design new incentives. Inextricably linked to metrics are incentives.  How, when we build in students the over-riding value of extrinsic motivators, can we hope that they grow up recognising the importance of self-determination and self-realisation?  As Toikkanen (2016) points out, current education systems rely heavily on extrinsic motivators, e.g. rewards and punishments.  These motivators, although effective in fuelling the memorization of facts and knowledge, are much less impactful in galvanising a mastery of knowledge and skills.  Students are not usually inspired to learn through engaging with the content, but through meeting short-term goals to earn easy reward.  Essentially, they study to achieve the test score that is necessary in order to access the next level and tend to forget the information and skills they learn.  Through the design of new incentives, we have the opportunity to unleash students full learning potential, encourage their mastery of real-life skills, and build the competencies, attitudes and behaviours, education must harness intrinsic motivators.

Build genuine connection. Distance is danger.  Although we are living in a time of global connectivity and digital technologies, there is a great danger that these provide an illusion of ‘Connection’.  The autonomy granted through technology provides a cover for meaningful human interaction and genuine interconnectivity and finding ways in which technologies can harmonise and not polarise is essential.  However, educations role in ensuring more meaningful connections with each other and the wider world has to underpin future development and is probably the most important building block of all.  How we develop relationships and how we enable collaboration, both within the school environment and across boundaries, needs to influence our thinking.  Opportunities for teachers and schools to interact with one another through ‘peer to peer’ networks, and the chance for students to work with and learn from others in different settings and cultures, is paramount to ensuring genuine connection.

As we enter a unique window of opportunity to shape education, there are small and simple steps that have the potential to create big change.  Each one of us has the potential to break from the preconceptions which have led our lives up to this point.  If we made it up once, we can make it again.