Stavros N. Yiannouka, CEO of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) – Qatar Foundation’s global education think-tank – on why education must make a “fundamental shift rather than simply surviving”
Right now, millions of educators are grappling with the new realities of teaching in the midst of a pandemic: extended periods of disruption, a lack of resources to support evolving needs and absent or disengaged students whose learning loss will prove to be enormously difficult to overcome with each passing week.
We know what doesn’t work, so now is the opportune time to make that fundamental shift and create new, sustainable, pathways to quality education
However, education has always had a great deal of messy issues to resolve. Equity and access to quality education are not the mainstay of learning for the majority of the world’s population, and there have been more than enough examples to demonstrate how this sector has struggled to reconfigure itself to a 21st Century context.
Over the past few months, we have expected schools to be resilient against the acceleration of these issues, but the exhaustion of simply surviving has begun to take its toll. We know what doesn’t work, so now is the opportune time to make that fundamental shift and create new, sustainable, pathways to quality education.
Value vs Success
There has always been an apparent divergence between mainstream curriculum learning and the skills required to thrive in the real world. Academic ‘success’ still largely relies on outdated methods of assessment which generally lack an understanding of what learning actually looks like.
However, there are good examples of how schools have begun to evolve this mindset. Rather than focus on arbitrary measures of learning, The London Interdisciplinary School focuses instead on building global competencies which in turn, create intellectually curious problem solvers who are capable of dealing with the complexity of the real world.
In doing so, schools like this can create enough space for content and learning based not on narrow metrics of success, but rather the needs of the students and the context in which they live.
The education sector has often been wary of change, but as ‘future-proofing’ becomes more urgent, tapping into the experience of those outside of this silo will be the key to its future survival
The education sector has often been wary of change, but as ‘future-proofing’ becomes more urgent, tapping into the experience of those outside of this silo will be the key to its future survival. A great example of this has been the developing relationship between the edtech space and academic leaders.
In the past, there was a tangible disconnect between practitioners and entrepreneurs; they simply didn’t speak the same language. The result? Technology that did not meet the needs of the classroom, and teachers who were increasingly cynical about any new tool that came their way. In an effort to resolve this, ecosystems like Edtech Denmark were created to ensure continued dialogue between these key stakeholders, and the effect of this has been a deeper understanding of what makes edtech work and why.
Beyond its ability to build greater innovations, ecosystems like this have become incredibly important because they encourage a culture of iterative design and experimentation that serves to further enrich the education space.
Back to Basics
As the new term begins, we find ourselves up against incredibly high stakes, and many of the students re-entering classrooms will face an immediate disadvantage, not because they lack access to resources, but rather due to the way that these resources are used.
Edtech has, in many cases, provided immediate value to schools’ most recent pain points; however the innovation of any tool is tied to the capacity of its users
When the pandemic began, there was a rush to enter into the digital space without any real understanding of how to navigate within it. Edtech has, in many cases, provided immediate value to schools’ most recent pain points; however the innovation of any tool is tied to the capacity of its users. Only effective teachers will be able to leverage technology in a way to supplement, rather than replace, good pedagogy. If we are to see meaningful transformation in the way we learn, greater investment should be made in creating practitioners who are empowered enough to lead this change.
Reimagining education does not require rebuilding it. Instead, we should take this opportunity to have a serious re-examination of purpose. What is the role of the modern teacher? How do we leverage existing knowledge for new gains? What should education actually help students achieve?
For a long time, the education sector has managed to avoid this type of introspection, and there is still a temptation to return to some semblance of the status quo. However, the pandemic is forcing us embrace the existential crisis we’re now facing and learn from the hard knocks we’ve taken.
Demonstrating resilience in education was necessary. Without it, in a matter of months, children could have been set back years. As an immediate response to a challenge we didn’t have a template for, it has served its purpose.
But we shouldn’t fool ourselves that resilience means, or leads to, transformation. It has allowed us to cope, not to advance. And it remains to be seen whether the lessons we say our resilience experience has taught us outlive a pandemic.
Education needed fundamental change before COVID-19, and it needs it even more now. It’s still within our power to make it happen. But if we don’t look beyond simply being resilient, we’ll certainly never get there.