Te tīmatanga o te mātauranga ko te wahangū
Te wāhanga tuarua ko te whakarongo.
The first stage of learning is silence
The second stage is listening
Education is on the cusp of very significant change – no surprise at a time when society, capitalism, western democracy is in a state of flux, a period of the most rapid social and technological change ever, of increasing environmental concerns about sustainability and climate change, of biological and genetic engineering and increasing social inequality. Stephen Hawking wrote of the inevitability of self-designing beings, a bio-hacked super race that will transcend our biological bodies - Yuri Noah Harari’s ‘Homo Deus’ - and already we can see the impact of the application of technology in the field of medicine: pacemakers, artificial hips and knees, 3D body parts, the artificial pancreas, use of implants to administer electric pulses and drugs, robotics, data mining and medical imaging, and yesterday the world’s first genetically edited baby. Everywhere, technology is driving change at a pace that is not allowing time for the ethical decisions that should accompany it. We watch on in wonder, unsure how to make sense of all the new knowledge and uncertain of how we can prepare for what is to come and prevaricate - and nowhere is this more evident than in our schools.
The fact that we have had the same model of education for over a century isn’t in itself the need to change - change for change’s sake is never a good idea – but society is facing challenges that make us question the traditional school model as old jobs disappear and new ones emerge with quite different skill sets, as old values are undermined by expediency and greed as the social and economic divide widens. Education should not be complicated, but like an old anchor it is covered in barnacles which are not easily prised away.
Our response must be through education, always, but education with a different premise, not predicated on a business model, but based on a human model values and societal need.
At the end of World War Two, the sum of human knowledge was doubling every 25 years; now it is every twelve months and soon to be every 12 hours so it is pertinent to ask and keep asking if we are teaching the right knowledge? I remember finding an old exercise book of my father from the early forties and seeing a lesson on ox-bow lakes and realising I was taught the same lesson, more or less and then taught the same lesson myself. Nothing against ox-bow lakes but we increasingly have to decide what we should teach especially when knowledge is only a google search away.
At the same time, the role of schools has shifted from imparting knowledge to taking on board the societal responsibilities to provide social, emotional, pastoral and psychological care of children. Schools are now charged with educating children – young children - about sex, gender, modern slavery, terrorism, even as recently suggested, teaching young children to recognise the symptoms of cancer – subjects that were once the prerogative of parents and to be raised when they felt appropriate according to the emotional readiness of their child - and we wonder why we have created a generation more anxious, more worried than any generation before.
As changes wrought through technology continue to threaten great swathes of employment by requiring quite a different skill set from that predicated on academic achievement, we have to return to the question, what is education for?
The challenge facing education is that it is trapped in its own paradigm. Fuelled by binary debates about how we measure progress, about formative versus summative assessment, a knowledge rich curriculum versus a skills based curriculum and so on fed by an avaricious and self-serving education industry. There are literally thousands of education publications and educational consultancies, all with their own target markets, advising parents and schools, feeding into more than 400 education conferences held each year, funded by advertisers of everything from textbooks to laptops. It is a huge business dominated by vested interests –one of our examination boards Edexcel – is owned by the education publishers, Pearsons who publish a vast array of revision textbooks to supplement their courses - and usually dominated by funding issues and money. Change to curricula happens, albeit slowly, because, as teachers know, the cost of even changing one topic to another in one GCSE course depends on being able to resource it. But that should not be the impediment to answering the pressing question, ‘what is the best education we can give to our children?’
But in asking why we need to change, there are more fundamental reasons for a new paradigm. The crisis in society is not just because of the forces of change and technology, new knowledge and a changing job market, but something far deeper.
Helen Clark, the former New Zealand Prime Minister who led the United Nations Development Programme from 2009 to 2017 recently wrote “In designing a curriculum, start with human values + a common moral code. Stress the importance of ethics, empathy + dangers of self-interest. If we look at what's wrong with our society, it's in our failure to replace traditional codes of family /church with anything meaningful.”
When we look at changing our education system, we assume we start by changing the pedagogy, the curriculum, the school type, by tweaking the data we use and how we measure outcomes. But this is not where we should begin. Schools are a reflection of our values, our aspirations, our communities, our society. If we don’t get the premise right, if we don’t have the right moral principles and know why we are doing something we will be hi-jacked – as has been our education system – or caught in some bureaucratic inertia.
So what do we do – how do we change our traditional school system from a pyramid predicated on university where those that fall by the wayside aren’t even mentioned. On the day that the 1.5 million students who sat A Level had their achievements splashed all over the media, where were the unheralded 3.8 million who did vocational courses or others who just survived through school, unrecognised and unrewarded, because the system did not measure their intelligence or talents? How do we get away from our focus on content that is dictating the pedagogy. As exam pressure mounts we see more tutorial centres being established creating what has been labeled a ‘shadow education’ that is one operating outside of schools. We already have a huge tutoring industry with an estimated 24pc of pupils in England have used a tutor over the past year, with that figure rising to 40pc in London. The market is worth £6.5bn in the UK with 2.8 million pupils being tutored at any one time. ‘And parents are going for it.’ Add to that an increase in home educated pupils up 27 per cent this past year, with many more likely to be “hidden from sight” and the drift towards what we call surface rather than embedded learning and we can start to see what a crisis looks like. It’s a system that teaches us more about memorising than learning, more about status than impact, an industrialised system of education adhering to a taxonomy of subjects designed for a 20th century job market with only a trickle going to university. A system in which 20% of our students leave school functionally illiterate & innumerate and 64% of teachers last less than five years before quitting their jobs. This is what a crisis looks like. It is a system that was criticised by one of my past students who left her senior school with outstanding grades, but felt that school’s focus on examinations and ‘. . . on memorization, ticking boxes and ironing out children’s idiosyncracies’ had left her deeply frustrated and concerned.
As we keep turning the screw there are other unexpected costs for which our education system must take some blame. We are in the midst of a mental health epidemic in all its manifestations of self-harming, of depression, of eating disorders and isolation often bound up with the unhealthy focus on self-esteem rather than self-worth. It is a war zone with the mobile phone on the front line. Meanwhile the constraints of the Ebacc on creative subjects and pressures resulting from a slimmed down curriculum are ‘fast turning the UK into the most philistine nation in Europe’ . Since 2010 entries in Design and Technology have fallen by 154,000 (57%), whilst entries in Creative Subjects have fallen by over 77,000 (20%) with 2,600 fewer drama teachers & 2,100 fewer art & design teachers since 2010 – and this, at the very time we need creative people in our workforce. The same with the numbers learning European languages that have plummeted. Mary Myatt warns us that we will ‘deprive our young people of intellectual, artistic and physical nourishment’ if we don’t get our curriculum principles and planning right.
Why has this happened? In the first decade of the 21st century, we doubled expenditure on education from 40 billion to 80 billion & there were no tangible improvements.
Since then, we flat-lined. Why? Because we didn’t have our priorities right. What we have is a school system based on exams whose purpose is put them in rank order for their various institutions, courses, careers. How sure are we that pushing all children through a system predicated on exams is what we should be doing? Increasingly many are not. About half of university admissions officers say they do not believe that students arrive “sufficiently prepared” for higher education, that they lack independent learning skills, are ‘unable to remember facts’ and have ‘a ‘Google-it’ mentality’ unable to even manage their own time or workloads.
Employers are saying much the same. That while exams may suit a cohort of well-taught, compliant, children, intelligence and employability are something else. Recent research from Google – a company which initially hired only brilliant computer scientists – revealed in January this year, the seven top characteristics of its most successful employees were soft skills: coaching, listening well, making connections with others to solve complex problems. Raw STEM ability (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) came last. Only two weeks ago, the Headmaster of Stowe School, Dr Anthony Wallersteiner wrote
“We’re working with an exam system that is not much changed from Edwardian times. The truth is, making students sit alone at their desks does little to prepare them for a world where they will be working digitally, flexibly and collaboratively. Tomorrow’s school leavers and graduates will require a range of skills, not just scores: over their careers, they are likely to have an average of 17 jobs in five different fields of employment. Core skills like mathematics, writing and science will remain key but modern employers demand new ones like collaboration, coding, digital literacy, fluency in languages, critical thinking, creativity and entrepreneurial skills. The most successful schools of the future will regard preparation for work as more important than preparing pupils for A-Levels and that ‘schools need to address the needs of the so-called “phigital” generation who see no distinction between physical and online worlds and will enter a rapidly changing, largely digital workplace.’
He finished with a word of warning for schools that they could find themselves cut out of the education process altogether by impatient employers offering their own online courses. All of which is almost clichéd so often do we hear it, but that doesn’t make it less true. As Anthony Seldon noted ‘To prosper in the new age future, our children must not behave like robots. They must not learn like robots. Not work like robots. The real robots will do all that.’ Yet my contention is that in designing a new paradigm of education we need to focus first and foremost, not in making good employees, but in making good citizens.
A new paradigm for education has to tackle the contentious subject of measurement that dominates our schools and strangles our teaching and learning and muffles our students. Another former pupil wrote of her time at her senior school ‘I have vivid memories of beginning secondary school; I was shocked at how my new peers did not seem to have the same independence as me, both inside and outside the classroom. Not only did I ask more questions than them, but if I were to respond to a teacher’s request or statement asking “why?” I was perceived to be both troublesome and a disturbance to the class.’
We have to see education as something other than just loading and measuring, especially given the narrowness of what we are measuring - in other words, we need to redefine what success looks like. Wellington College attempted to broaden its teaching by focusing on the eight intelligences: personal and social, creative and physical, moral and spiritual, logical and linguistic. The irony, however, is that schools merely pay lip service to the first six and only concentrate on the last two which are the two most easily replicated by machines as algorithms and artificial intelligence are outperforming human beings on most aspects of logical and linguistic intelligence. (So) the very skills around which we have designed our schools and our exam system are the very ones that will be rendered redundant within the next twenty years. We need to find different ways of measuring children, those that have a gift in one subject, but are failed by their singularity of purpose, those who don’t respond to our traditional ways of measurement, those whose time has not yet come, but need the chance. It was that well-known dyslexic, Albert Einstein who made the point when he wrote
‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Meanwhile, schools are struggling to make sense of it all. Gordonstoun has just released a report commissioned by Edinburgh University on ‘Out of classroom learning experiences’ OOCLEs that extols the benefits for education in the round and of the whole child. Other schools are extending their own offerings although they are inevitably drawn back into the bottleneck that are national qualifications. Until we change the way we measure children – a truly horrible phrase– we will continue to ignore their talents and compromise their futures.
Just as the digital revolution with its fusion of technologies is rapidly changing our world, it will also inevitably change our schools. Recently, the Chief economist of the Bank of England warned that we will need a skills revolution to avoid ‘large swathes’ of people becoming technologically unemployed’ as AI makes jobs obsolete and create widespread hollowing out of the job market, rising inequality, social tension and many people struggling to make a living. But that is all dealing in the here and now, within the current paradigm.
Which is why we need a new paradigm. It’s not just because what we have may not be fit for purpose or because technology is changing us or because our curriculum is redundant, all of which may be true, but because the premise is rotten.
Recently a story was doing the rounds on social media of three men who left a restaurant without paying. A few days later the restaurant owners received a letter containing the money due and a little extra with an explanation that they had left to find an ATM machine and then realised the last train was about to leave so were unable to do so.
What is remarkable about this story is that it is ‘remarkable,’ as if such behaviours, such actions, don’t fit with what we now perceive to be normal. As such it highlights the place where society is, that when ethical behaviour occurs, it is seen as extraordinary.
When looking at writing a new framework for education, it is evident that this is the right place to start, not with content, nor skills, but with values and behaviours. After all,
the absence of any ethical framework, and the dearth of societal values, is evident in every walk of life. We can pick any profession: law, accountancy, the pharmaceutical industry, industrial farming, property development, sport, the Church - the list is almost as long as is the list of jobs. Stripped down, we don’t take long to find examples of worker exploitation, cost fixing, drug taking, sexual abuse or putting profit above people by ‘using’ tax loopholes. There is no moral imperative at work. We saw it when the boil was exposed (if not properly lanced), with the behaviour of politicians, bankers, fund managers and venture capitalists, whose criminal actions and self-interest were exposed through the expenses scandal and the banking crisis. The fact that so few were held to account merely reinforces the impression that we are living in an ethical wild west, a view that hasn’t changed since. Recently, the founder of the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, Nigel Oakes called for more regulation admitting that he operated for years ‘without much of an ethical radar’, before going on to defend his decision by saying ‘It’s above my pay scale to decide the ethics of this.’ Not so. Ethics are beyond the contents of the purse and should apply to all of us at every level of society.
But the fault-lines go much deeper than this. The behaviour of the big four accountancy firms who earlier this year were accused by MPs of “feasting on what was soon to become a carcass” as it emerged they banked £72m for work linked to collapsed government contractor Carillion in the years leading up to its financial failure highlight the rotten underbelly in which everything was alright as long as it turned a profit. One time-tested way of doing so is to strip and ravage the environment and natural resources, preferably off-shore, by over-fishing, by the ruthless destruction of forests for palm oil to shore up UK pension funds, by dumping waste, the proliferation of off-shore tax havens, car manufacturers ignoring safety concerns to boost profit; over charging and failing to honour commitments by tradesmen, by professionals rounding up their hours; misusing expense accounts; misleading advertising; child labour; zero hours contracts; mis-selling; unpaid internships, currency fraud; tax optimisation and so on. ” It is frightening that 25% of UK employees still perceive corruption to be widespread in their businesses and 42% believe their senior management would act unethically to help a business survive.
When Artemis, (self-titled as The Profit Hunters) boasted that their ‘global hunters’ spend their lives carving through the atlas for opportunities for profit, we need to understand that such companies are the product of our economic model and that any subsidiary interests or concerns, environmental or moral, are subsumed by the goal to maximize profits.
Self-interest rules and it can come as no surprise then if you ask children what they want to be when they grow up that the most popular answer is rich and famous for that is the model they see every day. Is this what we want our children to aspire to? And where are ethics in all of this? Worse, where is it leading us as a society?
We need, somehow, to move the Titanic. The obsession of governments with GDP – gross domestic product - as a measure of economic activity is deeply flawed as is well-known, measuring both good and bad economic activity, from farming to drug dealing and gun running, but taking no account of voluntary work or raising a family, implicitly favouring built in obsolescence and having no truck with such green-tinged schemes as recycling. Having a philosophy that relies on endless growth with no ethical boundaries continues to undo us unless we can educate the next generation about sustainability and the ethical use of our planet and looking after each other. Simon Kuznets, Nobel Prize winner who developed the measure before the war, had quite different aspirations, intending GDP to measure economic welfare and well-being, (but being ignored in the post-war US-UK plans), mitigating against the unequal distribution of gains and ensuring we were not growing at the expense of our environment. We know from the role models all around us that if we are not on our guard we will be scammed, ripped off, tricked into signing up for deals we don’t want, confronted by insurance scams, by subtle changes to bank rates, pension providers, by cold calling, unethical behaviour by fuel companies, car dealers, by mobile phone companies, by small print, by the very people we should be able to trust – professional people, our leaders of industry, bankers and politicians.
With the spread of fake news, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, ethics takes on more importance than ever before.
The need to be able to make decisions that are not based on economic or personal self-interest is compelling. Waste, such as the amount of foodstuffs thrown out by supermarkets (over 200 000 tonnes each year) is simply unacceptable on a planet with so much poverty. Recently, the big food chains have made an effort to reduce waste, increase donations of food to food-banks and cooperatives by building up partnerships with local charities, but it is the tip of an iceberg that is founded on waste and obsolescence. Nor should we excuse the fashion label, Burberry who destroyed more than £28m worth of its fashion and cosmetic products over the past year to guard against counterfeiting or mail order companies that put returns into landfills. No waste is acceptable and even planned obsolescence, deemed good for economic activity, is short-sighted and harmful. We simply cannot afford to treat our planet and our society in this way any longer or allow government, acting in our name, to behave unethically (selling our waste to Thailand, investing in dodgy environmental areas, and selling arms to countries who ignore human rights. Which is why I am a trustee of the charity Operation Future Hope which looks to address such crucial issues as conservation, sustainability and the regenerative environment through education. And throughout, we need to keep asking the question: what are our ethics and are we, and those who represent us, acting in accordance with them?
Nor is education ‘clean.’ We have schools gaming the system by using different exam providers; or indulging in sharp practice in school recruitment through inducements and undercutting other schools; or setting up campuses abroad to bring money back to the UK; or stopping students moving into the 6th form or from sitting exams for fear that they will negatively affect league tables (more than 20% of teachers were aware of ‘off-rolling’ in schools they had taught in) - all common practice and all unethical. Plagiarism is at a level where schools now feel compelled to purchase software to identify it; while cheating, by students and teachers, has risen fuelled by the drip-down pressure of league tables. Essay mills, a business reputed to earn billions of pounds worldwide has resulted in some 50,000 students being caught cheating in the last three years alone. The recent de-valuing of academic entry to university even raises the question as to whether it is be ‘ethical’ to encourage students to pursue a university course simply because with lowered conditional offers, they will get in, in part due to the due to the rapacity of universities fighting for survival (and who themselves are acting unethically?) When are schools charities and when are they businesses? How many schools see overseas students as ‘cash cows?’ How ethical is selective schooling knowing that it produces winners and losers with all the consequent baggage? It should concern us, all of it. For when schools lose their moral compass and their understanding of what they are here for, then we are in a moral mire.
Then those things that affect the individual: selfies and the narcissism and insecurity they engender, the epidemic of loneliness amongst the young, the closing down of communities, the loss of collegiality, a society that prizes acquisition above welfare. And on this frontline we have the mobile phone that is dominating our time and attention like no other single device in history as we check our phones every 12 minutes on average and spending between two to three hours connected each day. What is that doing to us and how do we manage it? And in the debate between self-esteem and self-respect, between self awareness and empathy, between self and community too often the emphasis is on looking after yourself and taking what you can, with self-interest and avarice its drivers. A wee bit colourful? Perhaps. But if we are to change society, and to equip the next generation to make the ethical decisions that will be required of them to manage technology, to look after the environment and to counter the atomisation of society through social media, we need to act. And where better than at the very start of our education system?
So how to change? How do we try to instil the importance of making good ethical decisions from a young age. How do we make children think of themselves as part of a whole? How do we embed kindness and empathy, appropriate behaviours, manners and attitudes conducive to making good citizens?
How do we move away from measurement to the immeasurable? How do we move from values into ethics, that is moral principles that govern our behaviour, that demand we make judgments about good and bad, that we see our values in the effect that have on others, on our environment and on our communities?
This isn’t an issue solely for schools, but for all of us. Children need role models and particularly parental guidance as they mimic the example, language, values and behaviours of their parents (think using mobiles). As adults, we need to be more environmentally conscious, more ethical in how we act , more charitable and more community minded – we know that. Schools, likewise should not just talk their values, but walk them in their corridors, in their classrooms and on their playing fields. The answers lie in early education and developing the right attitudes to learning, about identifying children with their larger community and by encouraging them to look outwards, not inwards, to understand and look after their classmates, their community and their environment and all who inhabit it. The value of service to fulfilled lives. And this generation are up for it. They want change and they are right to question those who tell them otherwise. That’s why we go back to the why question. Why do we teach what we do? This week Stephen Tierney argued that the debate over the “real substance of education” was not about having a broad and balanced curriculum or having a well-conceived set of standardised and externally assessed examinations but “a life well lived.” He’s right of course, but I fear it is a little harder for Ofsted to measure.
There are a few green shoots: the announcement of the head of Ofsted to downplay academic grades in favour of character development; the announcement by the Singapore government that from next year, exams for primary years up to age 8 years will be abolished in a series of changes aimed at discouraging comparisons between student performance.
+ So what will this new paradigm look like? How do we engender third world attitudes into first world countries.
How do we grow an education system predicated on citizenship and values rather than one driven by measurement or GDP or academic qualifications that apply to the few. How can we get cross-party consensus to give education more autonomy from political interference? How can we get governments and communities to prioritise education? How do we convince the many vested interests involved in education that change is necessary? And how do we ensure we are giving children what is required to develop and live fulfilled lives in the future?
All big questions and I suggest it is by returning to the question I asked at the start, the one I always ask: ‘What is the best education we can give to our children?’ and then work out we go about it? Which is at the heart of the new paradigm.
In writing a curriculum for the first years of school, I started with four key attitudes: first, the idea of being part of a group of moving the me out of the middle of the circle and establishing the sense of belonging is so important, by extlooing mutual benefit, of service and charity, of thoughtfulness and kindness; second, of learning to have a respect for the environment and the world we live in sustainability, climate change, conservation ; third, of understanding the joy of learning, of being creative and the desire for knowledge and understanding being something they want to do rather than have to do so they grow up accepting that education is both a privilege and a joy, but also a constant in their lives, noting also the advice of Dr Tomas Ellegard that ‘there is a lot of research that suggests if you want a more academic child, start academia later”
And last, the right attitudes to self – health, well-being, fitness, growing self-respect through words and actions, developing the creativity and sense of purpose to do things for a purpose.
We already know that schools take on many different roles and functions for their communities. Inevitably, as Simon Noakes observed, ‘’Schools will evolve into social spaces for human interaction” –not defined by walls and buildings where education will be delivered in communities by a wide variety of providers. Hence, while many parents might see the first function of school to get their children out of the house and with their peers for an extended part of each day - and that is important, schools will take on an ever wider brief, where pastoral and social care, health and well-being are minded; and where through a marriage of the curricular and co-curricular, of vocational and incidental education, schools will become more relevant to the society they serve. More and more, education provision will be accessed from homes as well as schools, from tutorial centres and universities. At the same time, the new players: google, amazon and Apple will seek to become new education providers, rivalling government and independent providers. There is a difference between e-learning and screen time however, and we recognise that technology is a huge social experiment on children and that according to a recent report by Nellie Bowles in the New Yorker, persuasive psychologists working for tech companies, such as Apple and Google, ‘compete ferociously to get products into schools and target students at an early age, when brand loyalty begin to form.’ She goes on to describe these tools as ‘phenomenally addictive’ designed by psychologists ‘well-versed in the field of persuasive design’ that is influencing human behaviour through the screen. We should pause to consider why schools in Silicon valley are limiting or banning technology in some of their schools while child care contracts demand that nannies hide phones, tablets, computers and TVs from their charges. Or as Katharine Birbalsingh Head of Michaela Community School tweeted rathermore forcefully: “I say this to parents at school. The fat cats make their billions off giving your children the latest tech gadget while they fill their houses with books”.
Yet while some things may change, others may stay the same. We need to root out some of the ideas that have been allowed to creep into education, even the constant changes in language, theory and terminology, so that topics become unintelligible to parents – I’m thinking of new methods of maths or such grammatical terms such as causal connectives and fronted adverbials now required for SATs - or perhaps confusion is the intention? Of all the schools I have taught in and teachers and methods I have seen, when it comes to teaching children to read, to learn their tables, spelling and writing, nothing has compared to the rigorous and yet sensitive teaching by an exceptional teacher in the first school I ever taught at with its emphasis on practice, on developing memory, on repetition, on high expectations. She worked wonders with children who we would now label as having severe learning difficulties and by ignoring the difficulties, transcended them. Children came out of her class with the rudiments in place, with a standard of work that constantly surprised them and a self-discipline and pride that stayed with them. It is proven that direct instruction has consistent, positive effects on student achievement. While we need to change what and how we teach, discipline and rigor will remain at the heart of learning, aided and abetted by high expectations and a sense of purpose.
In the short-term we need to do away with league tables and find academic alternatives to A Levels - T Levels with teeth –and develop our vocational offering. We need to recognise that measuring and ranking students on applied intelligence to a prescribed body of knowledge is the antithesis of the fluid and flexible education our children will need in the future.
We hear so much about AI and technology, yet there has been no greater waste of resources and time over the past twenty years than the amounts schools have spent on technology - and this is unlikely to stop soon although education is the most resistant fortress of all. We know technology can embellish lessons and add to the learning experience, mill knowledge banks and gives lessons greater applicability and relevance through virtual or augmented reality. Yet for every teacher who uses it well, there are as more for whom it is a distraction, something that gets between the teacher and the learner. But change is coming as recently signalled by universities who will no longer accept hand written exams, by an increase in collaboration through cloud computing, the rise of the autonomous learner, coding and multiple learning stations,. . The state of Utah has been rolling out a state-funded online-only preschool, now serving around 10,000 children. It’s happening and we should be wary. What would be more helpful would be for algorithms to allow teachers more time to teach – that is rather than being a teaching tool creating different ways to teach that they will allow more time to teach, so schools are not tied to producing copious amounts of data and policy. With the large number of policies required to be on school websites - and for parents who don’t know, most schools even have a policy on policies, the human resources of a school are under ever increasing pressure. If new algorithms can help schools to manage admissions, policies, data accumulation, reporting, with pastoral care and record keeping, then teachers will be able to get on with their teaching.
Second, as teacher shortages grow, we need to look at what alternatives there are to our traditional methods of delivery. In many countries correspondence courses have been around for half a century or more. University degrees through distance learning, and now e-learning, and links to lectures through you-tube courses are commonplace. Yet it seems incredible that we are not utilised e-learning in all schools with e-learning will be the heart of our provision delivering a broad curriculum. This may involve subtle changes in the role of teachers so they take on a role akin to that of a tutor, but that is happening already. There are a number of learning platforms driven by algorithms that promote personalized learning by analyzing students work, pinpointing gaps in their knowledge, providing precision reporting and insights into the student's learning style and identifying specific abilities and areas to improve. In the future, the ability to measure ability by sophisticated algorithms will likely be the death of exams as we know them.
We will need to cut back on content to allow for other learning, of skills and the means to access new knowledge. Traditional subjects will be assessed for the relevance of content. New subjects like sustainability, a hybrid of economics, philosophy and geography will emerge; old topics like trigonometry and glaciation will be marginalised while some subjects may be cast out altogether. Traditional subjects may not change although as in the case of History, we may decide to distinguish between the history that explains where our country is today in relation to the countries we connect with and the history that centres on our island’s narrative and extolling the national mythology. Economics should take in to account the Resilience doughnut so we start to measure economic activity by assessing the cost of its effect on diversity and the environment for we need to educate our young about the environmental ceiling that consists of nine planetary boundaries, as set out by Rockstrom et al, beyond which lies unacceptable environmental degradation and potential tipping points in Earth systems. Mathematics and the Sciences will need to constantly trawl their content to update and incorporate new knowledge. And we will need to be more flexible, ready to embrace change cautiously and always without compromise, by revisiting our question, ‘what is the best education we can give our children?
Taking into account what we know of adolescence and sleep, it may be that schools will still start at 8.30 am as they must, albeit not for learning purposes, with the first 90 minutes given over to creative arts or physical activity. Core teaching time could be restricted for no more than three hours: 10.00am to 1.00pm, with its focus on the effectiveness of engagement. In the afternoon, there may be a hybrid approach of some traditional classes delivered in classrooms augmented by a wide range of subjects available on on-line platforms including academic and vocational training depending on age. Extra-curricular should be brought inside the walls; outside of the core subjects, diversity, personalised learning will become the norm as the model evolves. And evolve it must.
There would be an emphasis on creative arts and the skills that are required for this new world – music, art, design, drama, coding – and an emphasis on imagination and enquiry in all subjects. And languages, we must encourage languages, even more so as we slip out of Europe. A new survey last week found that half of young people feel that their education has not prepared them for the world of work’ – which is why we have to change the paradigm to provide the diversity and flexibility and skills required. As a counterweight, we need also to blush when we hear the label the snowflake generation for this is something we have created. Young adults, in turn, wll need to learn to be patient in their ambition, more flexible, prepared to spend time to learn, to understand the importance of loyalty, service and hard work and personal sacrifice in a quest not to make money, but to make a difference. Even if we haven’t told them so, at least not yet
To achieve this, we need to make sure that education reflects our beliefs and values as a society. This is the why to which we return, the ethical premise and the values, behaviours and attitudes which underpin our lives. At present, we are playing catch up at the very time the glaciers are melting and technology is taking us on a white water ride. Our moral principles have been compromised by not being explicit enough and this has allowed big business to ride roughshod over the environment. With climate change and conservation marginalized by those whose profits are affected and who therefore have no truck with those who fight for environmental change and for regeneration. This is why we need a new paradigm: it is not just about integrating technology or changing a curriculum, integrating new skills or growing emotional intelligence. It is also about fighting for our future by providing our children with an ethical framework on which to build a sustainable society for the future and to give purpose and direction to their lives.