How do we prepare students for today’s society? This is particularly relevant in our current situation when most students have been forced into distance learning due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Nobody is able to predict with any real certainty what this future will look like, but we must have the foresight to understand what skills and qualifications our students will need to enter a competitive workforce.
Normally, when we consider the next step for students leaving school, we think of the university as a large number of them will end up going to these higher education institutes, gain a degree and then go into a related profession. Other students will either take some technical or vocational qualifications or even enter the workforce directly. The problem with these assumptions is that school graduates are making different choices to their parents in terms of career, as many of their possible career paths did not exist when their parents entered the workforce.
However, these assumptions may be wrong and instead, we should be preparing our students to be life-long learners rather than seeing education as a process simply to get through and obtain a final qualification.
Traditionally schools and universities use a “hierarchal” domain, where teachers or professors pass on their knowledge in classes or lectures. The newer online nature of learning either individually or in groups is defined as “distributed learning”.
The obvious shift is from the hierarchical approach of schools and universities to the distributed approach as almost all human knowledge is becoming available online through the internet and this is being accessed by Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and the awarding of micro-credentials. These MOOCs are affordable and allow learning on personal interests and or any work-specific area that is needed for your profession. These micro-credentials can be collected and presented to any possible employers as either a portfolio or transcript of knowledge and skills.
If distributed learning is the way forward for adults, what role should schools be playing to help students transition into these new modes of learning. The first thing we must consider is the content of the curriculum and how relevant it is for today’s living. Well, it may be somewhat obsolete, apart from the skills and knowledge gained in fundamental subjects like language, mathematics and science. The other subjects obviously have some very important and critical knowledge which must be learnt but the focus must be much more on the teaching of the skills of these subject and not so much on its content.
The style of teaching must also continue to change from a traditional teacher-centred learning environment to a student-centred learning environment. This means the teacher is no longer the holder of knowledge but becomes the facilitator of the students learning. This should include their interests and passions, with the teacher acting as a guide along this path, making sure that the journey ahead is safe and to monitor their learning to make sure that every student succeeds.
Students must have a choice in their learning as they inquire about their own interests as well as the prescribed curriculum. Some schools around the world have started the idea of Google and introduced an 80/20 rule, where students can use 20 percent of their time for creative side projects. Other schools have started using a Project-Based Approach (PBL) and others have followed an inquiry-based model.
This inquiry-based model promotes a transdisciplinary approach where big questions or themes are explored rather than through traditional subject area. This type of learning makes the experience more relevant for the learner and therefore more memorable and actionable.
Education needs to continue to move, change and catch up with the everyday life of the 21st century. Schools will continue to be needed in either a physical, virtual or blended environment, not only for the teaching of content but for the teaching of social skills, sometimes called soft-skills. These skills are the key to success in the future as even with all the information you need at your fingertips, it will be the skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity which will be at the forefront. These skills are called the 4Cs, but I would like to add another 4Cs, these being: character, compassion, curiosity and citizenship. With the breadth of the 8Cs, we move closer to the future of education and possibly the birth of true life-long learning.
Gregor Polson is the Principal Headteacher Lagos Preparatory & Secondary School