Are Schools Delivering What Pupils Need for the Future?

It is clear that the current political, social and economic turmoil will gather pace making the future for the young people in education uncertain.

What should the role of schools be in preparing young people for this complex and challenging future? How does the pedagogy and curriculum need to change to best prepare young people for the uncertainty of the future?

One of the main drivers of change in the late 20th Century was the speed that science and technology developed and the effect this had in delivering social and economic change. For those educated in the mid-20th Century, the specific skills that were taught in schools were often outdated during their early working lives. In schools during the late 1950s and 1960s there were no computers or mobile telephones and many houses did not even have telephones or television. This meant that communication and the pace of life was much slower. Schools in the 1950’s and 1960’s did not predict and so did not prepare pupils for the social revolution in work, leisure, consumerism etc. that took place. This has meant that past generations were unprepared for the extent of these changes which in turn has led to increasing alienation, social tensions and discontentment in some areas of society.

This discontentment has been transmitted through generations and is a contributory factor in the social and political revolution that is taking place, much of which is being driven by disaffection.

Schools should not be blamed for not responding quickly enough to these change as they were having to cope with increased political pressures and the fall-out from changing societal attitudes to many things including parenting and the family. This was putting schools, and education more generally, in the invidious of situation of having to cope with the consequences of social and political changes whilst having to defend itself against accusations of failing young people.

To avoid repeating this mistake schools must recognise that they have a wider role than just providing access to a set curriculum and recognise that they have a key role in better preparing young people for change, whatever that might be……  This will certainly be a challenge and will involve radical change in how schools have traditionally operated. The curriculum and its delivery will have to be closely and honestly scrutinized to determine whether it is fit for purpose in preparing pupils effectively for a changing and uncertain future in the 21st Century. This will not be easy as there will be societal and political pressures to maintain the status quo. In times of change we tend to cling to the certainty of the past whether this is good preparation for the future or not!

The elephant in the room is the rapid pace that technology is developing and the effect that this is having on social cohesion. Unless this is harnessed and used effectively it will lead to further dysfunctional social upheaval. Today pupils have the sum total of human knowledge at their fingertips through computers, tablets and smartphones, so the transmission of knowledge will no longer be the main function of schools. So, what will schools be doing in this new world if one of their main recognised purposes is removed? In my view, the role will be far more complex and will entail teachers becoming educators in the widest sense. This journey has already started with the trend of teachers moving from being transmitters of knowledge to being enablers of learning.  Teachers will still have to be great motivators encouraging students to continually acquire knowledge and then give them the skills to assess the validity of information acquired from the web – separating fact from “fake news”.

It is important that we prepare students for this change, whilst the future cannot be predicted we should be giving them enough certainty not to be taken by surprise about any change that may ensue.

It will be necessary for pupils to acquire key skills to enable them to fully benefit from this changing world. The basics, will still exist, such as being literate, numerate and able to communicate effectively.  As are an understanding of the frameworks for scientific, historical and geographic knowledge.  Also, an understanding of the importance of the Arts in developing our culture. If this foundation is not achieved satisfactorily by all pupils it will create a two-tier society dividing those who can acquire and interpret knowledge from those who cannot and who will get increasingly left behind and alienated. We will have to develop strategies and individual programmes so that everybody can acquire these basics.

Once the basics have been achieved rather than the curriculum being content- led as it is largely at present it will need to be skills and thought -led. It is key that pupils are supported in developing thinking and learning skills. Pupils will gain knowledge, not by being spoon fed but by learning how to research and probe information to test its authenticity. The role of the teacher will be as a learning guide, mentor and motivator. If this is achieved successfully it will establish a foundation for lifelong learning – a key skill in a rapidly changing society.

A potentially challenging element, which will need increased emphasis, is the promotion of a strong “inner self” which will include the development of values, a sense of right and wrong and increased resilience. This will be particularly important in a rapidly changing and at times chaotic external environment. Without these students will easily be blown off-course and the incidence of anti-social behavior and mental illness will increase.

This is a massive change agenda which will not be delivered tomorrow. For this change to be fully realised not only will there be need to be changes in schools but also to Government and societal attitudes to schools, to teacher training, and to investment in technology. However, the start has to come from somewhere and this should be a change that is promoted and developed by educators. Many schools have already started the move from a teacher and knowledge led pedagogy to one where the individual pupil takes more responsibility for their learning and where there is a greater emphasis on the individual’s wider development. As educators, we now need to consider whether the learning we are promoting is really preparing young people for an uncertain future where the ability to be flexible and develop new skills will be paramount.

Paul Brett 

Chairman, International Schools Partnership

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