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  • Diahann Hughes Hawkins

ReThinking Education

Updated: May 17, 2020

[Note: this blog was written prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, which has thrown Education into a chaotic mix of remote learning experiments around the world virtually overnight]

It is time to completely rethink education”. Around the world many people are quietly mumbling the same words, as more parents and educators realise that the modern education system blindly followed by most countries throughout the world is an unsustainable system. Like the global plastic problem, this is another creeping issue that in the near future could risk a great strain not only on our economies, but the stability of our societies. Millions of children around the globe are leaving school without the tools a basic education should provide. I call these worst off children our schools the “gap children”, who because of special education needs, bullying, off-rolling, poor quality schools, family dysfunction/disruption, lack of confidence in themselves, mental health issues, illiteracy, economic disadvantage…cannot secure a place in higher education or even vocational training. Their outlook is zero hour contract, living wage jobs at best in a future where job markets will shrink across a wide range of professions due to on-going technology disruption. These children may not have a chance to be employed or find the confidence to re-employ themselves through their own businesses or retrain, especially if they never left school with those tools they require in the first place. It almost seems like the primary reason these children are attending schools is purely childcare. Those are just the worst-off ones.

What about the many children who appear to be coping well in the existing education system? They may acquire the basic tools of a standardised education, however many analysts estimate that up to 80% of current jobs will be radically changed or gone by 2050. This should concern every parent who thinks that professional vocations such as doctors, accountants and teachers will always be in demand, and university degrees will help their children get an edge. In many of the top professions we are going to experience some of the greatest upheavals since the Industrial Revolution as artificial intelligence (AI) improves efficiency of human labor by manyfold and continues to reduce the cost of labour. In simple terms, graduates of the near future are going to become less and less employable. Already employers are modifying hiring criteria to consider practical experience as well as degrees. This means a candidate needs to demonstrate an ability to learn and evolve with the changing requirements of future workplaces...not just provide a piece of (very expensive) paper.

These are systemic problems, which is why the efforts to desperately plug the holes while the dam is about to burst seems futile. Yet the academic treadmill keeps turning in a ‘business as usual’ fashion because there is so little room in teaching timetables for new ideas and teaching methods to be adopted. Every time new initiatives are put to the DfE in an attempt to improve schools, according to the latest theories of whatever political party gets into power, these mammoth projects prevent the incompetant powers-that-be from seeing the growing escalation of critical problems that most schools are facing across the nation: higher population growth, seriously decreased public funding, outdated teaching resources and a rigid pedagogy that has been proven time and again to be ineffective for the majority of children. Each year, more material is being added to the National Curriculum without removing outdated material, which means teachers’ timetables are exploding and forcing pupils to skim through information at a pace that even Google would struggle with to keep up.

Where can problem-solving, collaboration, innovation and creativity be squeezed into the cracks of overinflated teaching timetables within this treadmill system? How can children be expected to effectively learn in this stressed, frantic pace which creates mini-robots taught to regurgitate data onto SAT and GCSE exams (which sadly involves constant practice throughout the better part of their education!)? We don’t need human robots, we need humane humans that have developed important ‘soft skills’ to allow future leaders and workers to adapt to the rapidly changing world we already find ourselves in. Below are some of these key skills that outspoken education specialists, and as of late Ofsted, have called for all students to have when they leave education and are thrust into our rapidly-changing 21st century world:

Creativity / Confidence / Leadership / Problem-solving / Self-motivation / Collaboration / Resiliency / Social & Emotional Intelligence / Communication

So how can we get to the end objective of developing these key skills in every child? We really need to start with working backwards – from future job requirements and then redesign the education that will be needed to get our graduates there.

This series of ReThinking Education articles will explore some of the leading research, creative ideas, collaborative dialogue and (my own) personal exploration with my two children aged 9 & 11yrs. This blog is an attempt to find common denominators, and try to assemble pieces of a ‘big picture’ solution of how we could redesign our education system. There must be some plausible global solutions being discussed by other voices, which will definitely be shared.

Hopefully, this blog will spur an open dialogue to help envision a thriving, sustainable future for 21st century Learning that has the potential to work for everyone…not just the privileged few.

- February 2nd, 2020

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