Our educational system was set up to supply workers for the capitalist market system. Historically the focus has always been on reading, writing and arithmetic. These remain necessary foundations, but if we are looking to build a more resilient, sustainable and equal society we need to re-think education in terms of the skills that will help children build a better, brighter future. We need to entrust our teachers with creativity and critical thinking, allowing them to equip our children with tools to build mutual understanding and dialogue and to find new ways to solve old problems.
The inequalities that are embedded in our systems and institutions lead to a lack of agency in our citizens, which in turn demotivates. Daniel Pink talks about the need to understand that carrot and stick approaches to education, and to business, ignores the very human need to find purpose and joy in working and learning. It’s no coincidence that the last few years have seen strong growth in open source developments in technology - giving for a greater purpose has always been a strong ethical undercurrent in human nature. Back in 1959 Nils Bohlin gave away his patent for the three point seat belt, believing the good it would do in saving lives would outstrip any personal gain. Nowhere is this sacrifice for the greater good more apparent than our efforts to defeat Covid19.
Compassion, social connection and community are fundamental to human growth and yet we set children to compete against each other with constant standardised testing. We stimulate with technology and encourage the mindset of being in it to win it. No one says that winning isn’t fun, but do we want to build a generation of competitors when collaboration is the only effective way to address global challenges? During the covid crisis we have seen countries collaborate in science and research, in sharing skills and necessary machines. We have also seen countries competing for PPE, for reagents, for resources. There were even reports the US tried to buy the exclusive rights to a vaccine being developed in Germany. Is that a world view we want to pass on to our children?
Children, like adults, need to have a sense of purpose, a goal that makes sense to them. Obviously feedback plays an important role in the educational process, as feedback helps them develop mastery over skills and subjects. Is standardised testing the only way to achieve this?
Whether it’s climate, plastics, pollution, food supply, if we can make their learning real to them it brings meaning into education. We need to give children tools to enable complex thinking and an understanding that they have power and choices as voters, interveners and activists. That doesn’t mean making them feel responsible for the world around them but to support them in understanding their power to create their own futures.
With current technology the answers to questions lie at our fingertips. Expertise now lies in knowing what and who to ask. In networks we can elicit expertise and solve problems that are increasingly complex and it’s time we give students the game to play instead of simply handing them the manual. A great life involves being able to contribute your skills in the face of great change and re-thinking our educational system can and will help our children to live fulfilled lives.
This article initially appeared in the May 2020 issue of Education Today https://www.education-today.co.uk/