I am enjoying the distributed debate about the purpose of education – but wonder whetherwe are getting in too deep, too personal, too philosophical and missing something along the way?
At its simplest, every day in lessons and class groups across the world, educators are faced with the same, seemingly impossible mission:
How to use the imperfect knowledge and tools I have available to help prepare my students to solve problems that haven’t even arisen yet and a life that none of us can predict!
(Or at least, they could be. In reality this theoretical mission gets swamped by the day-to-day pressures. But assume for now that they are …)
Surely this can never work? How can I even prepare myself for an uncertain future, let alone helping others along that path?
Isn’t this exactly what education is about? If we don’t acknowledge the basic impossibility of this task; the ridiculousness of preparing to solve problems that don’t even exist yet; the woeful unpreparedness of any system to prepare for an unknown future; we trick ourselves into thinking that all we need is a better system, or newer tools rather than dealing with the real challenge.
I had a fantastic school experience. And it had nothing at all to do with the curriculum (which, growing up in apartheid South Africa was extremely conservative). It had everything to do with individual teachers, and school management who chose to rise above the curriculum, and challenged us to think differently. To do projects spanning multiple subjects. To reach beyond school. To develop political voices. To build daft sounding skills like problem solving and brainstorming.
I realise now that these were futureskills.
If we want to have any hope at all of preparing for the unknown, surely we need to take more pride in developing futureskills like confidence, autonomy, tolerance, curiosity?
Others have done a far better job than I can of describing these futureskills:
- Cristina’s “building of Personality & Good Character”
- Ewan’s “ambition to continually discover and question the world around them throughout life”
- Leon’s ” curiosity; engagement; reaching out; building networks between people for the Common Good”
- Simon’s “education is about change”
- James’ “balance of freedom and responsibility”
- I especially liked Paulo Freire describing tolerance as a basic skill, and essential first step in learning from, and about others
But how to influence the system to embrace these? If we have to have school league tables, why not measure success on how many students have excelled in a profession that only got invented after they left school? Or how many have managed to live and work in another language and culture?
As an employer, I can say without doubt that my most valuable members of staff are not the ones with good qualifications, but rather those good futureskills. Who help me solve a problem even when I cannot quite describe it well enough. Who have the vision to paint pictures of the future, combined with the handcraft (technical) skills to make them happen.
If we really want to change education – why not celebrate and prize these futureskills in increasingly vocal ways, and try to weave them deep into the fabric of the system. We may never be able to stop the system being about “competition”, but at least if we compete on futureskills it might be of more benefit to us all …