How should education systems prepare students for an uncertain future? This question is addressed in the Learning Curve
, last week's report from Pearson. It got widespread coverage for its conclusion that the UK is 6th in the world for educational achievement. However it also found that some of the world's most successful educational systems, especially in Asia, are moving away from rote-learning and focusing instead on team skills, empathy, innovation and creativity. The report notes that in 2015 the PISA international comparison will include new measures to measure collaborative skills.
The irony is that these countries are recognising the need for radical change in education just as Michael Gove seeks to take our education system back to the approaches being abandoned in places like Singapore and South Korea. Indeed he quotes
the current Singapore system as a model to follow.
No education system can remain static,” writes Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong. "Technology is transforming our lives. The skills needed in the future will be very different from those needed today.” At the same time South Korean schools are now being encouraged to develop “creativity, character and collaboration”. And Chinese leaders believe their schools need to produce more "creative talent".
In contrast Michael Gove has not included creative subjects in the new ebacc and is focused on the same core subjects that were taught 50 years ago, preparing English students for the needs of the past economy. The section is worth reading in full and I have included it below:
(Extract from The Learning Curve
The questions of the appropriate education content to best ensure future economic growth and how best to equip students to face an uncertain future are also at the core of reforms in some of the more successful school systems, particularly in Asia.
Singapore’s Professor Lee explains that “of today’s job titles compared to those of 1995, many are very new; the skills are very new. We anticipate that evolution will be fast into the future.”
For over a decade, his country’s Ministry of Education has engaged in future scanning to identify the likely skills needed in the coming years, and adjusted its offerings to students accordingly. More important, since 1997, says Professor Lee, Singapore has shifted away from teaching rote knowledge to a firm foundation in the basics of maths, science, and literacy combined with an inculcation of how to understand and apply information. “We feel it contributes toward the students acquiring knowledge and skills of cognition and creativity attributes which are very important in the 21st century landscape.”
Both of these developments reflect an attitude that education systems need to be prepared for ongoing change rather than seek a single, best end state. “No education system can remain static,” writes Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, in the foreword to a recent report on education and geopolitics in the 21st century. “The world is changing rapidly. Technology is transforming our lives. The skills needed in the future will be very different from those needed today.”
Singapore is not alone. Shanghai students finished first in the latest PISA tests, but China is also shifting toward a much greater emphasis on creativity. Professor Zhao explains that the country’s leadership believes “the economy is moving quickly from a labour-intensive one to a knowledge economy. It needs creative talent.” Indeed, he finds it ironic that China is moving more in the direction of Western models even while politicians in those countries sometimes praise that of traditional Asian education. South Korean schools, meanwhile, are now being encouraged to develop “creativity, character and collaboration”.
Teaching people how to work together is indeed of growing relevance to the economy. According to Ms Parthasarathi, “A lot of education in the second half of the 20th century has made children fiercely individualistic, not good in a team, but these team skills – an ability to interact with respect with people; to empathise; to be innovatively adventurous – are essential for certain types of creativity.” In order to drive the teaching of collaborative skills, the Assessment and Teaching of 21st-Century Skills project – a multistakeholder group that includes the education ministries of the US, Australia, Singapore, Finland, the Netherlands and Costa Rica – has been seeking to develop metrics to test such abilities. These will be integrated into the PISA 2015 tests – a sign, Professor Schleicher says, that “the kinds of skills that matter in life are changing.”
Education can clearly deliver substantial social and economic outcomes. Understanding how it does so, however, and maximising those results are still works in progress for educational leaders. Says Mr Mackay, Chair of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership: “None of the countries you might think would be complacent are complacent at all: they are investing in new metrics.”