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Re-inventing our dated education systems to support the future economy

By Christopher Pommerening, Learnlife

 Back in 2004, the British government’s Department for Education and Skills (as it was then known) launched an initiative to provide headteachers, teachers, support staff and governors with a shared foundation for the development of a ‘personalised approach to learning’. The idea was to tailor education to each child’s individual needs, interests and aptitude to fulfil every young person’s potential. However, in reality the focus was on each child’s level of development and their preferred learning style. Government-funded ‘learning platforms’ were introduced to, in theory, help teachers to tailor the learning experience to each child. For example, in any one maths class, each child could be working on different activities based on their skill level.

While the idea was certainly a step in the right direction, what this initiative failed to do was to consider the broader passions within each child; whether they show a propensity for creativity and the arts, manipulating numbers, or music. If we can nurture these natural skills early on in a child’s school life and wrap their learning around this, we have not only engaged them in their learning journey but have inspired potential for a fulfilling career and lifelong learning.

Despite greater intentions to move towards a more personal approach to learning, sadly nothing has changed since 2004.

Children continue to face education systems that barely differ from those of their parents and even their grandparents. While sectors including healthcare, business and manufacturing have evolved through using artificial intelligence (AI) technology and augmented reality and robots, our future employees, today’s students, are still required to fit within the restrictive boundaries of the current subject segmented curriculum. They are certainly not prepared for the jobs that will exist in two, five, or 10-years’ time and this is particularly important with workplaces continually evolving in line with technological advancements and automation. Therefore, it’s vital that we provide children with real-world and transferable skills that will aid them throughout their lives, alongside the opportunity to continually upskill and learn new expertise in order to fulfil employer demands and requirements.

It’s time for change

The education sector has long needed a shake up and perhaps Covid-19 has given us the chance to stand back and consider learning from a new, refreshed perspective.

Around the world, the majority of teachers and students are currently struggling either with the remote, online learning environment or with a very restricted ‘in school’ environment. I say ‘the majority’ as there are some students who have thrived on this remote model of learning. Whether they have been bullied, struggle to work in a noisy classroom environment or simply prefer their own company, we once again see an example of how Covid-19 has emphasised the importance of a personal learning experience for each child.

To simply ‘return to normality’ post-Covid-19, to a context where learners do not build self-awareness, have no agency, and where there is an over-reliance on exam pressures and standardised testing, would be one of the biggest blunders of the 21st century.

Standardization is creating the biggest dead-end for our future generations. In the next decade, almost everything that can be standardized will be automated by machines. What will be the purpose for a standardized humanity?

Now is the time to embrace learning innovation and unleash a new lifelong learning paradigm for everyone. What we need is a new model of learning that is learner-centred and focused on purpose-inspired and personal learning. Self-determined learning will substitute standardised instructional education. While core concepts around numeracy, literacy, languages and science remain essential, it is also important for individuals to understand themselves, relate and engage effectively with others, navigate our changing society and embrace our new digital world and the potential it offers. Only then will we create a generation of adaptable, creative and innovative workers who can positively contribute to our economy.

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More than ever, we have to develop our most human qualities. Creativity, adaptability, original thinking and collaboration will all be key concepts in learning communities, as well as in the workplace. Everyone excels at something; it’s about finding that ‘something’.

Sir Mo Farah, CBE, provides us with a perfect example. The British long-distance runner and the most successful British track athlete in modern Olympic Games history moved from his birthplace, Mogadishu, Somalia, to a school in London. One of his teachers admitted that he had significant issues and struggled to settle into school life; that was until his sports teacher noticed his running skills and worked with him to respect and nurture these skills. This sport’s teacher possibly saved him from heading down a very negative pathway; he identified Mo’s ‘something.’

Supporting students in a modern world

By 2030, it’s predicted that 800 million people could be displaced by automation and 65 per cent of today’s youth will need to find or create work in areas that do not yet exist. For some, gone are the days of the prospect of choosing a career for life; in an ever-changing world where people need to continually hone new skills to make way for changes in jobs and sectors – whether that’s due to personal choices or emerging technologies – lifelong learning leads to a heightened sense of personal fulfilment and happiness, as well as opportunities for reskilling, upskilling and increased employability.

We now have the opportunity to revamp our learning environments and design them in a way that ensures each child’s learning can truly flourish.

So, what would that look like?

Any government or school can use this unique moment in time to set-up modular learning studios in their outdoor spaces to relieve class sizes and introduce creative and digitally empowered pop-up learning hubs to experience the future of learning.

Our dream at Learnlife is to see every child move away from our current standardised approach to learning that bears little relevance to the emerging workplaces.

It is about creating a new learning paradigm for anyone in the world; only then can we ensure a truly self-determined and personal approach to learning, driven by purpose and passion. Working to explore new competencies will in turn, enable learners to develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Collaborative learning communities will then be able to develop the problem-solving champions in a world where agility, creativity and social innovation will be needed in order to solve future challenges.

Therefore, I call on all education ministers across the world to recognise the urgent need for a lasting, positive change in the world of learning. Ministers need to work with organisations like ourselves who are the catalyst within this movement for change. United, we will initiate change for good. We have the opportunity to shape the future of learning and Learnlife endeavours to be a community with an optimistic picture of what learning could be and the ability to show it in practice.

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