Are we really serving today’s students?

This article was originally published in Interface Magazine in November 2018 for The Mind Lab.

“In a fast-moving world, the organisation, community, or country that unleashes the genius of its people through the best possible education will move forward at an unprecedented rate. Unfortunately, the organisation, community, or country that does not unleash the genius of its people through the best possible education will fall backward at the same dizzying pace.” - Gary Marx

Educators shape the future as they guide and encourage the next generation, and now is the time they fully recognise the critical roles they play in society, says Gary Marx in ‘Future-focused Leadership: Preparing Schools, Students and Communities for Tomorrow’s Realities’.

Now is the time for our educators to recognise that today’s world is no longer that which our educational system was created for, and to explore and discover the fulfillment of building 21st century skills in our students and truly preparing the next generation for the future.

Education 3.0 in 2018

According to a recent report by the Education Commission, 40% of employers globally are struggling to recruit people with the skills they need. The report shows education around the world is failing to keep up with the growing demand for skills, and increasing shortages of skilled workers in both developing and developed economies. The Commission states if trends continue the same, more than a quarter of the population in low-income countries could still be living in extreme poverty in 2050.

William Daggett in ‘Preparing Students for their Technological Future’, writes, “Educators, parents, and the public at large must recognise a fundamental purpose to education - learning to apply academic skills needed for the increasingly sophisticated workplace and society.”

As highlighted by Daggett, Cisco Systems identified the trends of education and highlighted the fundamental shift that must take place for education to address the needs of the 21st century learner. The shift is described as moving from Education 1.0 to Education 3.0, where 1.0 is traditional education; 2.0 focuses on curriculum, teachers, accountability and leadership; and 3.0 is based on holistic information and 21st century pedagogy and skills, all enabled through technology and supported by government. According to Cisco, no education leaders have reached Education 3.0.

In order to work towards this ‘Education 3.0’, educators need to consider how to create meaning and context in lessons, understand the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, understand their role as a facilitator not a subject matter expert, and focus on building fundamental and transferable 21st century skills including creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication collaboration, technology, self-directed learning, and cultural awareness.

Our curriculum is here, but are we?

Richard Rowley, Education Director - Auckland for The Mind Lab by Unitec, says when it comes to actioning change in our own backyard, “Start with the New Zealand curriculum. Look at it yourself, and ask yourself, do I embody in my practice what it lays out?”

The vision of the New Zealand curriculum is for the nation’s young people to be creative, energetic, resourceful and enterprising; to be informed decision makers; to seize the opportunities offered by new knowledge and technologies to secure a sustainable social, cultural, economic, and environmental future for our country; to be confident, connected, and lifelong learners; and to be connected to others, to the land and the environment, as active participants in a range of contexts.

Rowley says, “Educators need to take the time to look at this vision, look at themselves and their practice. They need to ask themselves difficult questions about what they are doing to equip their learners for this new world. Are you living up to the New Zealand curriculum? If you can’t say yes to every single part you need to look at what you’re doing.”

Damon Kahi, National Technologist at The Mind Lab, adds, “In this new world companies are focusing on innovation, and looking for faster and better ways of doing things within the company. You can see a growing trend where companies are automating certain jobs and allowing employees to focus on other areas within the business. The idea of having a safe, reliable job is slowly starting to fade, as parents and teachers sometimes we turn a blind eye to this new world we are living in. But to do that is to seal our own children's fate. To make a change you just have to start.”

A fundamental shift to create meaning in education

According to Daggett, what needs to be learnt is secondary to how to use the vast amount of information available, and building skills such as problem solving, information processing, working collaboratively and knowing what to do when you’re not sure.

“Students may have limitless technology and information at their disposal, but can they access that information efficiently and effectively? Can they evaluate it critically and competently and identify objective facts from propaganda? Do they understand the real ethical, legal, and moral issues concerning access to and use of information? Can they create meaning from data? In essence, do they know the value of information, aside from what is needed to pass a test?” Daggett writes.

It’s also imperative to encourage cross-curricular learning, integrate STEM subjects, and bring subjects back to a real world context, says Sue Z. Beers in21st Century Skills: Preparing Students for Their Future’.

She writes, “To prepare students for their future lives and careers, they need to wrestle with real-life problems that are engaging and relevant. STEM projects require students to be active learners who learn important concepts through creative and innovative projects. Their involvement in the problem-solving process builds a culture of inquiry, in which asking and answering their own questions becomes the centerpiece of the learning process. Using appropriate technology tools to complete their task, students discover the most effective and efficient ways to access and manage the world of digital information that is available to them.”

Actioning change at Auckland’s Aorere College

The Mind Lab team including Damon Kahi and Richard Rowley are currently working with Aorere College staff to bring robotics to students in an accessible and sustainable way that ties the subject back to a real world context, builds 21st century skills and creates cross-sector relationships.

The team is currently in the process of developing a robotics programme that takes a known problem in the school or community and poses a solution. Throughout this process they learn the crucial skills of collaboration, exploration, empathy, how to code and build robotics, how to create a business plan, and understand how concepts such as automation function in the real world, all the while gaining confidence and empowerment.

“The traditional education system has a very narrow way of looking at the curriculum and assessments, so our focus becomes about opening schools up to the possibilities of what can be achieved, and doing it in a way in which the school is comfortable. All of the teachers at Aorere College have done The Mind Lab’s Postgrad programme, so they have that foundation,” says Rowley.

“The teachers here are prepared to have difficult conversations to drive change, which can be hard because essentially what you’re trying to get people to open their minds when it comes to education, and a lot of teachers have deeply held beliefs,” Rowley says. It’s about being clever, taking it one step at a time, implementing change in a way that is managed, and bringing on external help if necessary, he says.

With Aorere College there are also plans to link up with influential industry partners, which Kahi and Rowley say is an important piece of the puzzle as the shift in education takes place when you consider the three crucial stakeholders - parents and caregivers, educators and organisations. They are also considering how they can collaborate with other schools to share what they’re doing, what is and isn’t working, and enabling every student in New Zealand. According to Kahi and Rowley, Aorere is leading the way when it comes to showcasing what education in the future can look like.

“It’s about the individuals and interactions more so than the processes and tools. It’s about encouraging students to realise their own potential, fostering creativity and giving our kids a head start,” Rowley says.