The first change I started to read and think about was population. This is a complex issue because some parts of the world are seeing an ageing population, while others are seeing an expanding youth. There are therefore likely to be 2 different impacts on education - a growing wave of retired “lifelong learners” in some areas of the world, where the challenge is going to be getting enough people into the workforce to support them, and a huge number of young people in other parts of the world who will need schools, universities and will possibly face the issue of youth unemployment. Another challenge is that today’s majorities will become tomorrow’s minorities. This could well impact education too - with more need to educate students for being sensitive to and tolerant of diversity in the world. Technology has a part to play here too - but sadly the very technologies that are being used to transfer information around the world are also being used to spread intolerance and hatred.
Population is going to have another impact on education too - simply because of the growth of population is going to lead to more pressure on food production, global warming, access to water, the spread of diseases and so on. Current trends show that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, despite the fact that governments around the world have set the goal of reducing poverty. Poverty determines the number of children who do not attend school (because they are doing other things). The figures from the UN show that 10 years ago over 100 million children were not receiving even an elementary education - most of these were in Africa and south Asia and there was a much higher proportion of girls who did not attend school than boys. This is a vicious circle because without education there is little chance to breaking out of the cycle of poverty. Poverty limits education, and a lack of education leads to an increase in poverty, which in turn could lead to frustration, anger and instability. The generation of students in our schools today will be the ones making the decisions about destroying or saving our world - so it's important to consider what education they are getting to help them deal with these issues in the future, and to help the next generation of policy makers understand that both common threats and common opportunities can bring us together for a common purpose.
This brings me onto the next trend - the need to educate students to be creative and innovative, to be problem solvers and critical thinkers - yet are today’s education systems encouraging such thinkers? Although many in education call for more creativity and innovation, at the same time many schools are focusing on an increasingly narrow range of skills that can be tested. Conversely, in the international schools where I've taught, there has been a move away from summative assessment and towards formative assessment. Teachers are concerned about knowing what students are finding difficult as it helps to inform their practice and planning - there has been a shift from the assessment of learning to assessment for and assessment as learning and a movement towards giving students choices about the ways they show their understanding - away from a cookie cutter approach where all students are expected to do the same thing. More and more teachers are asking whether the move towards standardized tests prepares students for the future or simply freezes the students in the "traditional" status quo.
The ability of schools to attract outstanding educators is crucial to the future. Worldwide there is still a shortage of teachers and school administrators and one possible reason is that teaching salaries are not competitive with salaries of other professions that require the same level of academic preparation. So at the same time that more good teachers are needed, there is increasing competition for these people from other industries. How can we change this? Can we look at the big trends in the world and the needs they are creating, and help this to leverage governments to invest in a more professional teaching body? To me, thinking about these big global trends, it seems that education is the only thing that can turn today’s challenges into opportunities.
(A lot of the ideas contained in this blog post are the result of reading 2 books by Gary Marx this year:
21 Trends for the 21st Century
16 Trends: their profound impact on our future)