Looking globally: the future of education
Looking globally: the future of education

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Looking globally: the future of education

1.1 Is education fit for purpose?

Current education systems have evolved in different contexts and from ideological positions which have shaped different systems. For example, recent changes have been made in Chile to support greater equity in education through moving away from the ultra neo-liberal agenda which had dominated for 30 years; the system in the UK grew out of increasing trade and industrialisation and the need for literate and numerate workers; Finland’s current system is the result of deliberate reforms introduced to move away from the influence of various historical influences and to aid economic recovery. Case studies of Finland and other countries are studied in more depth in the associated Open University masters module EE830 Learning and teaching: educating the next generation. If you are interested in signing up for this module, please email FELS-Masters-Admin@open.ac.uk [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

But are these current systems fit for purpose in a changing world? Many governments have attempted to reform education with changes to structures (types of schools), curriculum, and assessment; yet, overall, change is very slow and most children are still grouped according to age in classrooms of 30 or more pupils studying traditional subjects in ‘bite-sized’ chunks.

Activity 1 Education in numbers

Allow approximately 30 minutes
Described image
Figure 3 Part of the Education in numbers infographic.

Look at the statistics presented in this Education in numbers infographic, produced for this course by The Open University.

Think about:

  • Which statistics surprise or shock you?
  • What are the positive messages in these statistics?
  • What do these statistics identify as challenges for education systems all over the world?
  • What would be your priorities for change to education systems, based on your reaction to these statistics?

There is much to be positive about in the way education has developed but before we can decide if it is fit for purpose, it may be useful to explore what the purpose of education should be.

Activity 2 Purposes and challenges in today’s education

Allow approximately 45 minutes

Part A

Watch the following Royal Society of Arts (RSA) Animate video Changing Education Paradigms (2010), which has been adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally acclaimed educationalist.

Download this video clip.
Described image
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Every country on Earth at the moment is reforming public education. There are two reasons for it. The first of them is economic. People are trying to work out how do we educate our children to take their place in the economies of the twenty-first century. How do we do that given that we can’t anticipate what the economy will look like at the end of next week as the recent turmoil is demonstrating? How do we do that?
The second, though, is cultural. Every country on Earth is trying to figure out how do we educate our children so they have a sense of cultural identity and so that we can pass on the cultural genes of our communities while being part of the process of globalisation. How do we square that circle? The problem is they’re trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past. And on the way, they’re alienating millions of kids who don’t see any purpose in going to school.
When we went to school, we were kept there with a story, which was: if you worked hard and did well and got a college degree, you would have a job. Our kids don’t believe that, and they’re right not to, by the way. You’re better having a degree than not, but it’s not a guarantee any more. And particularly not if the route to it marginalises most of the things that you think are important about yourself.
Some people say we have to raise standards if this is a breakthrough. Really? Yes, we should. Why would you lower them? I haven’t come across an argument that persuades me of lowering them.
But raising them – of course we should raise them. The problem is that the current system of education was designed and conceived and structured for a different age. It was conceived in the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment and in the economic circumstances of the Industrial Revolution.
Before the middle of the nineteenth century, there were no systems of public education. Not really. You get educated by Jesuits if you had the money. But public education paid for from taxation, compulsory to everybody, and free at the point of delivery – that was a revolutionary idea. And many people objected to it.
They said it’s not possible for many street kids, working class children, to benefit from public education. They’re incapable of learning to read and write, and why are we spending time on this. So there’s also built into it, a whole series of assumptions about social structure and capacity.
It was driven by an economic imperative of the time. But running right through it was an intellectual model of the mind, which was essentially the Enlightenment view of intelligence; that real intelligence consists in this capacity for a certain type of deductive reasoning and a knowledge of the classics originally. What we come to think of is academic ability. And this is deep in the gene pool of public education; that there are really two types of people: academic and non-academic; smart people and non-smart people. And the consequence of that is that many brilliant people think they’re not because they’re being judged against this particular view of the mind.
So we have twin pillars: economic and intellectual. And my view is that this model has caused chaos in many people’s lives. It’s been great for some. There have been people who have benefited wonderfully from it. But most people have not.
Instead, they suffer this. This is the modern epidemic. And it’s as misplaced, and it’s as fictitious. This is the plague of ADHD.
Now, this is a map of the instance of ADHD in America or prescriptions for ADHD. Don’t mistake me. I don’t mean to say there is no such thing as Attention Deficit Disorder. I’m not qualified to say if there is such a thing. I know that a great majority of psychologists and paediatricians think there is such a thing, but it’s still a matter of debate.
What I do know for a fact is it’s not an epidemic. These kids are being medicated as routinely as we had our tonsils taken out and on the same whimsical basis and for the same reason: medical fashion. Our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the Earth.
They’re being besieged with information and pulls their attention from every platform: computers, from iPhones, from advertiser hoardings, from hundreds of television channels. And we’re penalising them for getting distracted. From what? Boring stuff at school for the most part. It seems to me it’s not a coincidence totally that the incidence of ADHD has risen in parallel with the growth of standardised testing.
Now, these kids are being given Ritalin, and Adderall, and all manner of things – often quite dangerous drugs, to get them focused and calm them down. But according to this, Attention Deficit Disorder increases as you travel east across the country. People start losing interest in Oklahoma.
They can hardly think straight in Arkansas.
And by the time they get to Washington, they’ve lost it completely.
And there are separate reasons for that I believe.
It’s a fictitious epidemic. If you think of it, the arts – and I don’t say this exclusively of the arts, I think it’s also true of science and of math but I say the arts particularly because they are the victims of this mentality currently particularly – the arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak, when you’re present in the current moment, when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing, when you are fully alive.
An anaesthetic is when you shut your senses off and deaden yourself to what’s happening. And a lot of these drugs are that. We’re getting our children through education by anaesthetising them, and I think we should be doing the exact opposite. We shouldn’t be putting them to sleep. We should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves.
But the model we have is this: I believe we have a system of education that is modelled on the interests of industrialism and in the image of it. I’ll give you a couple of examples: schools are still pretty much organised on factory lines – ringing bells, separate facilities, specialised into separate subjects. We still educate children by batches. We put them through the system by age group.
Why do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are? It’s like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture.
Well, I know kids who are much better than other kids at the same age in different disciplines, at different times of the day, or better in smaller groups than in large groups. Or sometimes they want to be on their own. If you’re interested in the model of learning, you don’t start from this production-line mentality.
It’s essentially about conformity, and increasingly it’s about that as you look at the growth of standardised testing and standardised curricula. And it’s about standardisation. I believe we’ve got to go in the exact opposite direction. That’s what I mean about changing the paradigm.
There was a great study done recently of divergent thinking. It was published a couple of years ago. Divergent thinking isn’t the same thing as creativity. I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value.
Divergent thinking isn’t a synonym, but it’s an essential capacity for creativity. It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question, lots of possible ways of interpreting a question, to think, what Edward de Bono would probably call, ‘laterally’ – to think not just in linear or convergent ways, to see multiple answers, not one.
So there are tests for this. One kind of ‘cod’ example would be: people might be asked to say how many uses can you think of for a paper clip. Or there’s routine questions. Most people might come up with 10 or 15. People who are good at this might come up with 200, and they do that by saying, well, could the paper clip be two hundred foot tall and be made out of foam rubber? Does it have to be a paper clip as we know it, Jim?
Now, they’re tests for this, and they gave them to 1500 people in a book called Breakpoint and Beyond. And on the protocol of the test, if you scored above a certain level, you’d be considered to be a genius at divergent thinking. OK? So my question to you is, what percentage of the people tested of the 1500 scored at genius level for divergent thinking?
Now, you need to know one more thing about them. These were kindergarten children. So what do you think? What percentage at genius level?
80. You think 80. OK. 98%. Now, the thing about this was it was a longitudinal study. So they retested the same children five years later – age of 8 to 10. What do you think?
50. They retested them again five years later – ages 13 to 15. You can see a trend here, can’t you? Now, this tells an interesting story. Because you could have imagined it going the other way, couldn’t you? You start off not being very good, but you get better as you get older.
But this shows two things: one is we all have this capacity, and two, it mostly deteriorates. Now, a lot of things have happened to these kids as they’ve grown up – a lot. But one of the most important things that happened to them, I am convinced, is that by now they have become educated.
They know they spent 10 years at school being told there’s one answer. It’s at the back and don’t look. And don’t copy because that’s cheating. Outside schools, that’s called ‘collaboration’. Inside schools … Now, this isn’t because teachers want it this way. It’s just because it happens that way. It’s because it’s in the gene pool of education.
We have to think differently about human capacity. We have to get over this old conception of academic, non-academic, abstract, theoretical, vocational, and see it for what it is: a myth. Second, we have to recognise that most great learning happens in groups; the collaboration is the stuff of growth. If we atomise people, and separate them, and judge them separately, we form a kind of disjunction between them and their natural learning environment. And thirdly, it’s crucially about the culture of our institutions – the habits of the institution and the habitats that they occupy.
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Think about:

  • What two primary purposes of education can you identify from the video?
  • What three issues in education can you identify that you see as interesting or important?
  • Do you agree with Sir Ken about the primary purposes and issues for education?
  • Does he accurately portray the educational settings and processes you have experienced?
  • What changes do you consider are needed in this education system?

Part B

Now follow the link to visit the working wall and post short descriptions of three aspects of the system that you know best which you think need to change. Don’t forget to add the country that you are talking about to your post. Search the wall and post your ideas with others that follow a similar theme. For further instructions on how to use the working wall, see our Using the working wall guidance.

Please note: we may wish to reuse your working wall contributions, anonymously, in future sessions of this course. If you wish to opt out of this, email FELS-Masters-Admin@open.ac.uk.


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