This vision of what education systems need to become is not a utopian vision, it is practical. It is based on the reality of what is happening in the best vanguard schools worldwide and on the ways they are promoting wider learning by their pupils. In studying these schools for the taxonomy of digital evolution of schools there proved to be more commonality between the vanguard schools across countries than between the vanguard schools and schools in their own country. This indicates that their approach is a consensus view of many professional educators and can form the basis for a vision for what national education systems should become.
This consensus view, created by school principals and teachers, is derived from their assessment of what needs to happen for the good of their pupils, their pupils’ families and the wider community, local and national.
The problem with visions is that there is huge inertia in moving an education system from one paradigm to another. The reaction to highly disruptive ideas is usually to make cosmetic changes to the existing system that appear to accept and accommodate a powerful new idea but which in reality make only marginal changes to what actually happens. The most powerful way that this is achieved in education systems is by changing the rhetoric about intentions but not changing the accountability systems.
Over the 40+ years that the digital revolution has been unfolding in schools and society, the single biggest inhibitor of change in how well learning happens has been the refusal of school examination authorities to accommodate and accept the use of digital systems in examinations, combined with the refusal of school inspectorates to recognise and require the enhanced learning that can result from the appropriate use of digital. There are now thankfully a few places where this is changing, for example the Dubai schools inspectorate.
The required central idea for the vision of what future education systems should become has been around for a long time, under the name ‘lifelong learning’. Numerous initiatives have happened which have largely paid lip-service to this idea. It has also often been interpreted as meaning lifelong teaching with calls for adult educational opportunities to be available. These are no doubt necessary where remedial education is required but they are not the central concept in lifelong learning, which must be the ability of individuals to learn and their access to the resources necessary for this.
There is now in many countries almost universal access to the internet and through the internet access to resources that can enable individuals to learn, if they are sufficiently capable and motivated to do so. It is time to make individual learning the central rationale and purpose of education systems, relegating the requirements of governments, employers and society to the secondary purpose. This need not reduce the importance of these purposes of education provided that all involved with educational policy and education system organisations have the belief that young people who become highly competent independent learners will wish to acquire the learning necessary to be a productive and successful member of the society they live in. Given that the whole history of human beings is of social organisation and group activity this is not a hard call to make.
But it will require clear understanding that ‘You Get What You Measure’; accountability measures and examination systems must change.
Individual learning, collaboratively, must be the central rationale. Making individual learning the central rationale for education systems requires that governments and schools acknowledge that schools are just one part of the education system and that learning out of school also needs to be enabled and supported. Key in this will be digitally connected families and development of parents educational awareness. For older children there will need to be increasing opportunities for them to engage independently with (online) educational opportunities.
The corollary to this is that schools will need to be required to do less, better. If school education is going to be complemented by family and independent education the essential role for schools is to ensure high literacy, numeracy and digital skills by an early age, combined with a growth mindset and desire to learn, and high learning skills.
And the corollary of this is that young people will need to be empowered to use these skills for learning that they wish to do in addition to the learning that society wishes them to do.
The vision must include a whole-child curriculum split between family, community, school, independent learning and commercial-world opportunities.
Appropriate attitudes to learning are vital. With a vision centred on how children can best learn, rather than centred on teachers teaching, it will be vital that children are inspired to learn, with a growth mindset instilled from the start. The reliance by some parents on schools to teach everything and the negative emotions of some parents emanating from their own poor school experience are both generational issues. It will take a generation to get more young people having a positive school experience and a growth mindset for them to then transfer this ‘can-learn’ attitude to their own children.
For families that do not yet have this ‘can learn’ attitude this obviously must be started in schools, though societal expectations generally will also have a big impact. Early years settings and primary schools will need to engage with digitally connected families and support those still struggling to become digitally connected, complementing and supporting them.
The focus in schools will be on capacity to learn and self-organised learning, alongside development of academic rigour and understanding of career paths and what is required for these.
The attitude of the children themselves will dictate whether schools succeed or fail in this. There will need to be emphasis on progress first, achievement second, to create the success spiral. Children will need to be directly supported in learning for themselves. We will see many more children leading learning, for themselves and others.
The non-educational roles of schools must be acknowledged. At the highest level of government there will need to be full acknowledgement of the role of schools in compensating for poor parenting and family poverty and difficulties, with budget as well as responsibility being given to schools.