6 June, 2016
There’s lot of arguments about 21st century skills: communication, teamwork, enterprise, problem-solving. Other than keeping a stiff upper lip when getting beaten with a cane, it’s tough to determine many skills that are not included in the 21st century skills.
Let’s be clear, schools don’t need to get rid of their teachers and replace them with iPads or to take away lessons and hang out eating hummus on beanbags between table tennis games. That would not be a school that set young people up for the experience 99.99% of them will have in the workplace. For those that do go into advertising, let it be a fun surprise for them when they get there.
All this does not mean that our schools don’t need to change. In fact, most school systems outside northern Europe may need a basic change in order to be fit for any century. It is a change based around what makes a “good school.”
In the U.K. in particular, there has been a recent move to go “back to basics” in education; a surge to focus on core competencies. A good school has become one with high performance in reading, writing and arithmetic tests.
Of course a school should be evaluated on the efficiency of its teaching but teachers, parents, young people and employers alike also recognize that there has to be more to school priorities than times tables. Retaining knowledge in an internet age is less important than it was. It just is. Whether people like it or not, Google makes it so.
Most teaching of course is not based on memorization learning, it is based on understanding patterns, getting to grips with why things are how they are, learning to craft objects and messages and to appreciate meaning. These things are at the heart of a school’s purpose.
However schools should have big hearts and room for more than one driver. Accountability needs to be extended beyond exam performance and teaching quality into two key areas: well-being and life outcomes.
The world is richer than it ever was and yet young people across the globe – and particularly in the U.K. – are getting more stressed and less happy. The addictive world of social media has left young people preoccupied with and overwhelmed by a 24-hour social network in a playground full of dark corners that they do not know how to navigate. If young people have a miserable childhood at the expense of a more “effective” education, is it worth it? Will it set them up for a more fulfilling life? Surely not.
This is why destinations-based performance management is vital, too. If schools develop people who go on to have fulfilling lives and fulfilling careers, does it matter what grades they get? If you have a school that fails to do this despite getting good grades, is it still a good school? The fact that there is some correlation between school performance and career/life fulfilment does not mean that you can always use one as a direct proxy for the other.
Will unhappy students who are effectively supported to cram for exams really go on to be happier and more fulfilled than those who are given the freedom to develop, to think and to challenge even if they didn’t revise as quite hard.
Schools are far more than centers of education and yet they are not recognized for the amazing work they do to help students thrive in life as well as to learn. It’s going to take a coming together of philanthropy, citizen action, young people’s voice, teachers and government to change things, but until that happens, we won’t have an education system particularly fit for any century.