A re-assessment of what education means in our connected, computer-supported world is needed. The problems education systems face – the stresses and strains in well developed education systems and how to create and build education systems from their very low base in developing countries – will only be resolved if we are clear about what education must now mean.
This must be based on the actual reality of the roles schools fulfil in society alongside the realities of communities, families and national economics, and the societal need to educate young people to maintain the kind of society the majority wish to have.
There are three parts to this debate. The first is clear analysis of societal needs and the requirements currently fulfilled by schools and the education of the young that is currently achieved. The second is analysis of how children learn best. The third is gaining clarity on what society needs young people to learn.
The role of schools in developed education systems is far wider than education. A key role is that they are custodial organisations that increasingly enable both parents to work. Though they still give access to knowledge and learning resources, particularly for children of poorer families, this is becoming a minor part of their role with digitally connected families quite often having wider access to knowledge (e.g. Schools that ban YouTube). They act to socialise children and to help them develop conversational and coping skills, which home educators may do far less well. They have a strong role in accrediting learning and hence fitting young people into slots in societal structures. And of course they do have a role in educating young people.
It is not a foregone conclusion that as education systems develop in more undeveloped countries that schools must take on these same roles. The custodial role could be organised more through extended families and community organisations. And schools that start in digitally connected societies may not host learning resources in the same way. There is also a case to be made that socialisation is increasingly happening through social networks, for good or ill.
Learning must happen in most of the 100% of childrens’ awake lives not just the 15% of their time that they spend in school. The needs of children and societies must become the driver for education systems, not the needs of teachers or government point-scoring on ‘improvement’. Beyond the basic skills that give access to learning of literacy, numeracy and ICT skills, it is debatable whether an academic understanding of language or mathematics is more or less important than many things that are often squeezed out of school learning, such as moral, social and humanistic understanding, aesthetic creativity and music.
Schools must conceive of their role as adding to the learning that happens in childrens’ lives not being the source of all learning.
The research on benefit to children must drive government policy. The funding profile must be inverted to support early years development more strongly than academic and vocational training for older students
With the rapid growth of knowledge, the ever-greater complexity of life as digital systems and global inter-connectedness develop, and the vary varied working lives people in future will experience, the way that education curricula are established is no longer fit for purpose. There cannot be, beyond basics, be agreement on a set body of knowledge that it is essential all young people acquire. Leaders of countries have to be aware that the global competitiveness of their country can be damaged if by adopting a set national curriculum they omit areas that other countries enable young people to learn more successfully. The way that the focus on academic study of maths and mother tongue are squeezing aesthetic creativity and humanities out of the School curriculum in some countries is an example of this.
The education system curriculum must also enable seamless continued learning through life, with the curriculum changing to suit the world and society as rapidly as the world and society themselves change. A new approach to deciding on the curriculum, and the accountability systems that dictate how a national curriculum is biased, is needed.