Why the design of Education 2.0 must begin now

Why the design of Education 2.0 must begin now

This month I went to Moscow, Russia at the invitation of the Global Education Leaders Partnership (GELP) to present FYA’s New Work Order research on young people and the future of work.

The pre-summit introduction included our Russian hosts explaining Russia to us by quoting Winston Churchill, who famously said: “Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

There was no shortage of passion, mastery and intrigue (with a mysterious dash of poetry and music thrown in) when education professionals from 15 countries joined Russian education leaders, Ministers and government officials, philanthropists, and business leaders to discuss the future of education.

GELP was established by the Centre for Strategic Education (Australia) and CICSO ten years ago, and supported by the Gates Foundation, as an intensive learning exchange with a vision to build the global education eco-system.

The future of work and accelerated pace of change is a looming issue for education systems the world over, and it was against this backdrop of VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – disruption that four key themes emerged from the discussions at GELP:

  1. The purpose and future of education

GELP delegates spent time unpacking the core business of education, and deconstructing the outdated idea that preparing students to move along a linear path from one stage of education to another is enough. The concept of students being taught to “ace the test”, and then leaving learning behind once they finish their schooling or higher education is no longer practical. Jurisdictions who excelled at this approach in the 20th century, including Singapore, Hong Kong and regions of China, have left this model behind as they set about to transform their learning systems to become future focused.

Professor Kai Ming Cheng from the University of Hong Kong highlighted the core business of education must now be to prepare for lifelong learning; and the leader of the Federal Education Institute in Russia eloquently surmised the purpose of education as a “system for humanity”.

To achieve this core purpose the way we structure learning in the future will necessarily be transformed.

Central to this future, according to the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) 2030 Learning Framework, is the concept of education that empowers young people to shape the world by equipping them with both agency and competency.   

This also means ensuring our education systems are preparing young people with the skills and knowledge, as well as attitudes and values, that they need to thrive in the age of the smart machine. The need for this is strongly evidenced by FYA’s New Work Smarts report which highlights the urgency of building our enterprising, cognitive and emotional skills, as technology will transform the way every job across the economy is performed.

In particular the OECD learning framework attempts to address the task of helping countries equip whole populations for the future by outlining three core principles to frame future learning: Universal, Capacious, and Permissive.

  1. The learner of the future

The rapid pace of change and our shared global challenges has provided the platform for “education’s moment”.

There are two clear disconnects which resonate globally: the changing nature of work and young people’s desire for different learning experiences.

Connie Yowell, from education design lab LRNG, has had the support of the MacArthur Foundation in the US who have invested 200 million philanthropic dollars and 10 years of work and research on how to design education for and with young people.

They believe effective and robust learning has 3 common elements:

  1. Peers;
  2. Passion; and
  3. Purpose.

LRNG’s research tells us some things are inevitable and some things (which we might believe to be important) are not necessarily inevitable in future education. The inevitables include the shift to personalisation and competency-based learning, and the move from schools to learning ecosystems. Not inevitable, however critical for the future of learning, is the transition from curriculum to playlists and micro credentials, skills and competencies tracking, and shifts in teaching methods.

  1. Business and philanthropy in education

Our pre-Summit visits to schools in Moscow included both high and low tech schools, and resource-rich to resource-constrained schools. All of them focused on the future of learning and inquiry based models of teaching. These schools were often being funded by philanthropists bringing industry, education, and nonprofits together.

As we are witnessing in other companies around the world, SBERBANK, one of the sponsors of the Russia Summit, are transforming their 55,000 Russians employees into teams with a developmental focus on 6 core competencies including problem solving and critical thinking; result orientation; self management; innovation and digital skills; and collaboration and experience. These transferable skills, which FYA refers to as enterprise capabilities, are now being privileged by employers globally and must be embedded and assessed in all learning as a matter of urgent priority.

  1. On building education ecosystems

Finally, we moved to discussion about ecosystems. 20th century education was essentially supply and demand; teachers and students, and the infrastructure which supported this model. Within this system there were other players, but they were mostly what I would describe as ‘boundary riders’.

21st century education empowers students, educators, parents, workers, and industry, to collectively engage in learning. We understand we are all learners and that we will participate in learning in multiple contexts across our lifetimes. Learning, the acquisition of knowledge, skills, experience, and the ability to apply these, is possibly the most significant contribution to individual agency.

Today, education is no longer an isolated system but a deep, rich, and complex ecosystem where all the actors and stakeholders are ideally working together for a common purpose.

There are outstanding examples of ecosystem approaches including Hong Kong, which began the transformation in 1999 with the first group/generation graduating in 2014. Hong Kong set out to drive a society-wide conversation with school leaders; giving parents and teachers education about a new curriculum focused on the theme “earning to learn”.

They enrolled the media to help tell the story and set up ten projects in schools. These schools were Hubs of learning, which engaged the broader community including teaching parents about fixed and growth mindsets. 21 years later, Hong Kong are unambiguously embarking on education transformation once again as they ensure their students are equipped for the future.

Tom Bentley from RMIT spoke about framing the long term vision for education that speaks to citizens in that community. It recognises and addresses equity gaps, uses evidence to inform new ways of working, has professional collaboration at its core, drives coherent community engagement, and provides ‘cover and legitimacy’ to leaders.

The conversations, debates, varying views and priorities, will continue but what is increasingly evident is that we must urgently prioritise a comprehensive and strategic investment in young people as 21st century learners, entrepreneurs, innovators and contributors in equal part.

The design of Education 2.0 must begin now.

Jan Owen AM

CEO, The Foundation for Young Australians