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New players challenging old education system

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Summer vacation has ended. Children are returning to school.  Today’s six-year olds will enter the world of work in the 2040’s.  It is impossible to imagine the world in  2040.  The problem is that for the education system this discussion is not about the future, but a discussion about the present.  We ask our children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?; we ask students, “What are you studying?” but the world in which professions survived for generations is disappearing.  The competition between man and machine, knowledge that is continually being revised, new tools that are emerging, all of these are eroding the basis of our professional knowledge. As a result, professions are changing, some disappearing while others are emerging. Change is so rapid, but our public systems, educational and academic frameworks have remained frozen in time, causing new players to enter the conversation. Around us we are seeing parents, organizations and other players who understand we cannot risk leaving the responsibility for rethinking and redesigning schools to civil service alone, but rather all of us, educators, students, parents and citizens need to take an active part. 

Division according to skill level instead of age

The Khan school was founded by the Khan Academy, a non-profit organization, whose purpose is to provide high-level education to all.  The school was founded in order to develop and test new forms of learning that can be shared with the world at large.  The focus is on the “how” of learning, not the “what” and subsequently students are divided according to their levels of independence and learning ability rather than their age.  They learn from teachers, their peers and independently, setting weekly goals and organizing their time between independent study, group study and projects they have chosen.  The goal is to teach students not just content and skills, but also how to control and manage their learning.  They are required to teach as well as learn, and by doing their chosen projects they also learn how to initiate projects that stem from personal interest rather than just doing what others ask them to do.   

Another example of an activity that originated outside of the classic educational system is the PAST foundation that was founded by a group of anthropologists and scientists together with museum curators and educators, in order to explore ways to connect learning to reality.  Contrary to the Khan school, this is not an experiment within a school, but rather an experimental effort outside the system.  The foundation initiated a laboratory for research and innovation in the world of education precisely for that boundary between school and the world of work.  Exploring problems that cross the boundaries between education and research, they are trying to reach past the boundaries of traditional schools and expand the understanding of students about all that is possible, including independent learning, multi-disciplinary staffs and developing knowledge.

Another interesting example for a broad activity is XQ, an organization whose purpose is to support educators, students, families, and interested citizens who want to re-envision the educational system in the USA.  The organization was formed in 2015 with an open call that was answered by more than 10,000 people from across the US, entire communities that support the effort to turn their ideas into a reality.  Amidst the variety of materials available on their website for students, teachers and parents, they also map out five learner goals, aimed to develop students to be deeply engaged in their own learning and fully prepared for all that the future has to offer.

  1. Masters of all fundamental literacies builds the academic core needed for learning, career and life.  These include the ability to read and comprehend complex information, to be able to apply critical thinking, the ability to write clearly and persuasively, to know how to work with numbers and calculations in order to be able to understand real world problems, including financial literacy, the ability to turn data into a story, to present and to persuade.

  1. Holders of foundational knowledge explore and contribute to knowledge and learning.  Here we meet many of the disciplines including, sciences, history, economics, arts, literature and mathematics with the intention of creating curious people, who are knowledgeable about the world, are able to integrate various worlds of knowledge as well as learn new ones.  This includes the ability to combine facts and understanding, to identify problems, collect data, to research and discover, to place in the right context. Ultimately, the goal is for students to be able to make use of any and all of these skills in new contexts and experiences so that they are involved and understand of their roles in society and in democracy and take an active part in the world. 

  2. Original thinkers for an uncertain world imagine new possibilities for oneself and others.  Here they interpret the world, explain contradictory information, create varied ideas in environments that are unclear or new, redefine things anew, imagine, and create new perspectives.  The intent is for students to be aware of new possibilities, to create new paths and not just to follow others, to be able to understand global knowledge, to respond to changing circumstances with new solutions, to think broadly, to look for possibilities, to remain flexible, to take chances and to solve problems.  And to do all of this while understanding the environmental needs, the industries, the people.

  3. Generous collaborators Co-create with others to find solutions.  As members of teams, they are aware of their strengths yet know when and how to look for expertise from others.  They grow communities of diversity people, ideas and perspectives.  They research challenges, create solutions, measure and learn from failures and share the results and the credit. They work together in networks, listen, question, practice empathy and learn the importance of ethical behavior. 

  4. Learners for life respond to a changing world with resilience and creativity. Here we want students to have a world view of perpetual growth, set objectives, try, succeed or fail, reorganize and try again. We want them to be able to see their place in the world and imagine the future, understanding strengths and identifying areas of development. To be self-driven and self-directed, and pave their paths for learning, career and life. 

Waves of change

Redesigning education seems like an impossible mission, but it is important for us to remind ourselves what we have accomplished in this field over the last one hundred years. As we moved from a typewriter to screens, from silent film to virtual reality, we have already gone through several waves in the world of education and knowledge and today we are entering the next wave.  The industrial revolution in the early 1900s created high schools as a system of basic education for all.  In 1910 only 9% of American had a high school diploma, in 1935 the number had risen to 40%.  Another wave of change arrived in the second half of the last century with the need for university education and from 1970 until today the number of students in higher education has doubled in the USA.  These two waves added years to the educational period of life, which came prior to work life.  But, the change required now will not be answered by simply adding additional time to the period of education and certification.  The current wave requires the educational system to change teaching so that the current generation will know how to continue to studying throughout the entire life time.

One thing is clear. The young students, who started a new school year in recent weeks,  will work in professions that for the most part do not exist today, performing tasks that have yet to be defined and will need to learn basic knowledge that we don’t even know that we don’t know.  Consequently, we have no choice, but to redefine the knowledge and skills that schools provide in the formative years, to move away from learning for the sake of knowing, in favor of teaching how to learn in order to learn and transform.   

The writer is a strategic consultant, lecturer, and blogger. niritcohen.com Making the Future of Work work for you


Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on September 25, 2019

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