Feb 20

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Education in the 21st Century

Early next term, I will have the privilege of joining with 19 Headmasters to have a bit of a chat about education in the 21st century. Hosted by Sir Anthony Seldon of Wellington College and embracing schools such as Eton (GB), Deerfield Academy and St Philip’s Exeter (USA), Bishops (South Africa), the Doon School (India) and Raffles (Singapore), we are destined for some fruitful discussion. This is because we have been tasked not just to respond to educational trends, but to have a crack at creating educational trends.

Therefore, it was with more than a little interest I tackled my homework for the forthcoming meeting.

Question 1 – What will education in the 21st century become?

This is what I suggested:

Education in the 21st century will become more technology-rich enabling a further erosion of the home/school boundary. ‘Flipped’ learning, whereby teaching (via the Net) is flipped to the home, will grow in popularity. This will reduce the need for schools to dispense knowledge and enable them to focus on more complex tasks such as creativity, synthesis and problem-solving. Home learning will be enriched by ‘massive open online courses’ (MOOCS). This will mean that virtual schools will emerge. Therefore, real schools will need to justify their existence and, in the case of private schools, their fees!

Value-added propositions for schools will need to move beyond getting crash-hot exam results. Other services will need to be offered such as enriched socialisation, networking, values acquisition, faith, character development, leadership training and advancing overall well-being.

With increased moral ambiguity and the erosion of spiritual imperatives, schools will be seen as the last opportunity by Government to shape the values of society. The only other option to schools doing this is to use mass media and the Net. However, Government has been a spectacular failure in being able to control the media or the Net. The biggest use of the Net is for porn, scams and gambling. With this track record, Government will also fail to get schools to shape a nation’s values. This will open the door to local communities who will do what the Government has failed to do – and create schools that advance the values they want.

Pupils in the 21st century will not only be freed from the chain-link fence around the school, they will be freed from national boundaries. Classes made up of people from around the world will be formed. Students from various nations will choose to study together for a certain topic. Enhanced video-conferencing techniques will make this possible.

University degrees will lose their significance. Employability will be based on personal qualities, flexibility and teachability. The dumbing down of tertiary content, a failure to stop cheating and a culture of putting financial gain before educational integrity, will see the allure of university courses diminish.

The move from a transmission style of education (where information is transmitted from teacher to student) to a constructivist approach (where students construct their own knowledge base) will continue unabated, despite right-wing push-back. The new God will not be the one resurrected from the dead. It will be the individual. This will ensure the triumph of the constructivist approach. We will become the ones to be worshipped.

High profile schools will continue to become lucrative legal targets until they are hounded into extinction owing millions to rapacious litigants. Their skeletal buildings will be turned into high density housing and their ovals will become plots for the growing of mung beans.

The boundary between teacher and student will dissolve, as will the boundary between teacher and machine. Students will teach their teachers, and machines will teach both. However, there will still be a role for mentors, life-coaches and adherents of Bikram Yoga.

Students will not go to a school. They will go to several schools at the same time – most of them online. The aggregation of their learning will be compiled by a central monitoring service and a testamur given proclaiming their level of attainment.

The boundary between infancy and school-childhood will become more vague. (Think pre-schools). The boundary between primary and secondary will become more vague. (Think middle-schools). The boundary between secondary education and tertiary education will become more vague. (Think Uni accreditation options in schools). The boundary between Uni and work will become more vague. (Think work experience).

Schools – such as exist – will become ‘centres of learning’ that are open to anybody of any age wanting any course. Nanas and Papas will be able to go to school with their grandchildren.

– – – / / – – –

There you have it. That’s what there is to look forward to. However, as stated earlier, we need not just be passive responders to what is going to happen, we need to be active agents in making things happen.

Question 2 – What should we do to create better schools in the 21st century?

We’ll concentrate on Australian education. I’ll start you off – but feel free to add and delete according to your politics.

– Institute the Gonski funding formula at once.
­ – Require schools that are registered as ‘charities’ to demonstrate they deserve this tax-free status rather more than at present.
­ – Partner high achieving schools with low achieving schools.
­ – Introduce an Educare Levy on wealthier families who have children at State or Private schools, in much the same way we have a Medicare Levy.
­ – Devolve more governance of schools to parents. Reduce the suffocating influence of centralised bureaucracies. – Allow the formation of ‘Charter Schools’. Essentially, these are State schools that have significant independence.
­ – Convert half of teacher long-service-leave entitlements into study leave thus in-servicing teachers as well as giving them a break from normal teaching duties.
­ – Empower, equip and require schools to teach essential life-skills such as financial literacy.
­ – Allow Heads of schools, even State schools, to hire and fire their staff.
­ – Put all Heads of schools on five-year contracts.
­ – Increase entry requirements for teacher-training courses.
­ – Pay teachers more but reduce their holidays a little to reduce the pressure of having to do so much in just 40 weeks.
­ – Review teachers every two years and reform or remove under-performing teachers.
­ – Provide timetabled opportunities for teachers to be mentored in their teaching.

Enough! I will have made a good number of you furious. Good. Let’s start the conversation about what the future of education should be in Australian schools and across the world.

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