The case for 21st century learning - inspirational words from OECD Directorate

Janet Downs's picture

Open letter to Secretary of State for Education:

Please read the article by Andreas Schleicher of OECD in which he describes the type of learning that will be essential for the 21st century. In particular, the warning that education can be stuck in "beliefs that learning can only occur in a particular way". In a rapidly changing world "producing more of the same knowledge and skills will not suffice." He addresses the challenge of producing motivated learners and warns that "routine cognitive skills... that are easiest to teach and easiest to test" are not sufficient alone.

"Education today is much more about ways of thinking which involve creative and critical approaches to problem-solving and decision-making. It is also about ways of working, including communication and collaboration, as well as the tools," Mr Schleicher writes. He continues with a plea to escape the narrow confines of traditional disciplines and show pupils how to synthesize the 'disparate bits'.

"If we spend our whole lives in the silo of a single discipline, we cannot develop the imaginative skills to connect the dots... yet most countries, with the possible exception of the Nordic countries, provide few incentives for students to learn and teachers to teach across disciplines."

Mr Schleicher's article is a forward-looking document, unlike the current Educational White Paper. It demands thorough reading.

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Francis Gilbert's picture
Sun, 16/01/2011 - 19:57

I found this article very thought provoking and valuable. I couldn't agree more. I really feel that we need to seriously re-shape the way we do things in school so that:

creative responses to difficult dilemmas
shaping and re-shaping one's identity
enjoyment of learning

are all central to education. He's absolutely right in my view. Some subjects, which Gove denigrates, do teach these skills to a degree: the CELS study of citizenship education shows that this is effective (see previous post), I think Media Studies is pretty good too!

Helen Flynn's picture
Sun, 16/01/2011 - 23:02

Could not agree more. This is the kind of information with which we need to contest the English Bacc.
I don't know if anyone was watching 'Question Time' on Thursday. The single most depressing thing was seeing Michael Gove, Charles Kennedy and Diane Abbott agreeing that the English Bacc was what was required. The reason why? They are all people who have been suited by and benefitted from a highly academic education. The extrapolation from a personal viewpoint is quite staggering amongst many influential politicians who quite simply fail to see the value of being progressive and truly innovative, irrespective of their political party.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 17/01/2011 - 11:07

Apologies for the mistake in my heading. It should have read "Inspirational words". I would hate to have my typo held up as a "savage indictment" of the grammatical knowledge of those who oppose the government's 'reforms'.

Helen Flynn's picture
Mon, 17/01/2011 - 18:27

Well said. Gove and his people will use any ammo to defend their position, and lack of correct grammar is probably pretty high on their list.......

Tony Sherborne's picture
Wed, 25/07/2012 - 09:09

It is certainly true what Andreas Schleicher says about educating people to be leaders and innovators not just followers and imitators. And that does require specifying all the various skills, qualities, habits of mind, facets of thinking - whatever you call them. The difficulty is knowing what's the best way to inculcate them. Some would recommend a curriculum where content is relatively unimportant, and projects rule. This sounds attractive. It is likely that practising, and making students aware each habit of mind does improve their ability to use it - to a certain extent. Yet, the research evidence does not support the claim that fully student centred approaches work better than the traditional teacher directed one - the opposite in fact. The innovative work we want students to aspire to is more the end, rather than the means. You need to lead students for quite a long time before most are able to take the reins. Along the way, they need to master bodies of knowledge in depth, before they can go beyond what they were taught - there is no such thing as generic 'creativity'. I find it a curious coincidence that education leaders who argue for a 21st Century curriculum were generally educated in a decidedly 19th Century way. So can it have been all that bad? This I believe what our curricula need is more like remoulding than a complete redesign.

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