“Our education system is a mess; it is failing us, our children, our future” – a catchphrase I hear at conferences, during dinner and casual conversations.
This refrain takes me back to my school years. I remember sitting in class, listening passively followed by hours of rote learning and note taking. There was no room for creativity, collaboration or critical thinking. I refrained from asking ‘silly questions’. And thought of the stress of exams and grades continues to give me knots in my stomach.
Our education systems weren’t much of a problem until now. The system addressed the 19th century industrial revolution needs for labour that could perform simple and repetitive tasks. But that era is long over. Our children must gear up for the ‘gig economy’. By the time today’s graduates are 38, they would have gone through 10 to maybe 14 jobs. Moreover, 15 years from now, 65% of graduates will be going into jobs that don’t yet exist.
Given these trends, lessons taught in classrooms no longer seem relevant for our increasingly tumultuous world. Teachers are wrestling with how to break away from archaic pedagogies and curricula. Students are jumping off the education conveyor belt unequipped for an unforeseen future. Governments are eager to develop knowledge societies but are grappling to find concrete strategies to get there.
So indeed, to many, the plight of education may resemble the state of our world: chaotic and ambiguous.
On the bright side, this turmoil is paving the way for innovation and creativity in the education world. For innovation stems from necessity and when the going gets tough, the tough get going: and that is the story of education.
So, if you, like me, dig deeper, you’ll notice how gritty change-makers are leveraging this state of chaos to develop something new and creative. They are reimagining education to make it relevant, accessible and qualitative. They are providing teachers tools to transform the 19th century classroom into a creative learning space. And they are helping learners develop the skills needed to design future knowledge societies and economies.
BRAC, Escuela Nueva, Ideas Box, Me and My City, Big Picture Learning, Bridge International Academies are just some of the initiatives that are addressing the faults and rifts in education.
For instance, Escuela Nueva, originally from Colombia, is a pretty good incarnation of what innovation in education looks like. Founder Vicky Colbert started these schools in remote valleys of Colombia. The education program looks at what students care about, what is important to them. Learners work on projects and assignments that reflect the real world. Teachers are guides and mentors. Tests are about assessing and not measuring.
Another example is Big Picture Learning in the US. Here there are no tests, no grades and no traditional classes to sit through and students are succeeding through real-world project-based learning.
Similarly, Ideas Box is changing the way we educate and train displaced people and refugees. The education initiative is turning knowledge into practice through mobile multimedia libraries.
Each of the above projects has its own magic touch yet they have plenty in common. The success of each project proves that it is possible to move from competition to collaboration, from listening to doing and from attending to being.
So, the good news is: change in education is real, it’s innovative, scalable and impactful! The bad news is: It remains confined to certain pockets of the world.
Why? Because of our lack of appetite for risk and limited enthusiasm for change.
People around me who hear of these projects are pleasantly astonished. But in less than a few minutes, the surprise reactions turn into skeptic scrutiny.
“Sébastien, these projects are so interesting and ‘cute’ but our education system is so specific –these models would never work here. You know, it’s hard to change the system,” they say.
Indeed, it’s hard to change the system. But wait a minute…who shapes this system? Isn’t it you, me – us?
I am an education expert, a parent and an educator.
Educators around the world, including myself, are willing and eager to try unconventional pedagogies in the classroom but our efforts would be futile without the support of parents, policymakers and the public.
We will of course face failures but every mistake will only bring us closer to bridging the gaping gap between the education we have and the education we need.
Like Mark Zuckerberg says “The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that is changing quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
So, we have a choice.
We can continue complaining about poor education systems and outdated curricula. We can continue blaming teachers for our children’s failures. We can continue criticising governments for poor funding and infrastructure.
Or we can take the risk to accept change, experiment and endorse new ideas.
Each night, as I tuck my two sons into bed, I try to visualise their lives ahead. What profession will they choose? Will they work next to robots? Will they specialise in a certain field? And most importantly, how will they lead meaningful lives?
And this is when I realise that a good education is the only tool I can arm them with for an unknown future.
But for that to happen, we, the people, must endorse change to make education great again.
The article is cross-posted from the Forbes platform