Home > Community engagement, Shifting schooling > Educating for the 21st century – is this just about school?

Educating for the 21st century – is this just about school?

November 23rd, 2009

Others have written about communities learning together and of the fluid and ever changing nature of communities. The point has been made that we need dialogue between different groups within the community, such as between people within what we currently call formal education and people in the wider community (parents, employers, etc). Others have highlighted the more permeable boundaries between the formal (usually in the context of schooling) and the informal (community-based, out of school experiences, etc) and the enriched opportunity to learn that when this occurs.

As I have mentioned in other blog entries I attended a symposium, Educating World Citizens for the 21st Century and I one thing I am left wondering about is why when we talk about educating for the 21st century the assumption commonly made is that the conversation is about the education of 5-17/18 year olds (being in the US the speakers all referred to K-12)? The title of the symposium didn’t suggest to me that attention would just be on these years. There was maybe a hint in the high level questions posed in the programme: “How can our educational system evolve to meet the challenges of the 21st century; and “How will we educate people to be compassionate, competent, ethical and engaged citizens in an increasingly complex and interconnected world? But, with the exception of references to the importance of learning in the very early years all the conversation focused on the systems of schools and schooling. Interestingly too there was only passing thought given to maybe re-thinking aspects of schooling. The conversation was mostly about how can we use the knowledge that we have from a variety of disciplines to improve the way we educate young people, mostly in terms of the curriculum we offer and the pedagogy we use. There was some acknowledgement that adults would need to learn new things, in this case the teachers who will need to take account of developing knowledge from neuroscience and psychology given that such knowledge could help improve the learning of their students.

Now of course we know how important learning is during the years of schooling but the very early years are also critical (with growing evidence that these years are even more important than we have realised) and the kind of education that supports learning post school; at work, and throughout life seem rather important too! We can, of course, hope that schools can be beacons ­ as many already are ­ of what 21st century learning might involve but to me it feels too narrow a window to be pinning all our hopes and attention in these years of life. Do we need a more spacious definition of “education system” so the default position isn’t just a focus on schools but takes account of the kind of “systems” we need at the various stages of life? Or, given that many are advocating more permeable boundaries between the so called “formal” and “informal” systems maybe we need new terminology so that we keep our conversation on education and learning and not on the “systems” of today?

Community engagement, Shifting schooling , , ,

  1. Mary
    | #1

    One of the really powerful ideas about future systems is the idea of spontaneous orders – essentially systems that evolve from the bottom up, rather than being designed from the top down (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_order for a quick precis). Democratic schools already use this idea well, IMHO. So do a number of individual teachers and schools, within the more limited confines of traditional formal schooling.

    I believe that the days of the institutional school-factory are (and should be) numbered. The future is in not only “personalising” but in de-institutionalising schooling – which is not to say that social/learning collectives will cease to exist, but that our present preoccupation with the institutions that direct and determine who will learn what, where, when, and why needs change.

    Until we (parents, teachers, politicians, et al) can think of the learning process (yes, for children and young people) without immediately short-circuiting to “school”, the future is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past…

    Before we can do that we need to learn to respect the learners themselves – our children and young people in particular. Yes, I know we all like to think we do already,but we don’t. Not in the way we expect people to respect us. There’s a shift for you! =)

    The point of connection between that and where I started, with the comment about spontaneous orders, is that the systems of today, which don’t do these things well, are not well placed to take us into the future. A system that allows and assists individual learners to learn individually – and collectivise as far as it works for them – (via spontaneous orders) gives us a very different picture and a very different system from what we have now.

  2. | #2

    I agree, Robyn, that we need to keep our conversation on education and learning and not on the systems of today and maybe new terminology would help with that. (Though I’m not sure how we prevent any words and phrases becoming meaningless jargon that impedes rather than helps communication). Maybe we also need to have more discussion about what the purpose of “formal” education actually is? Who should decide this? What do students learn from going to school that is different from what they would learn elsewhere? What is the benefit to society as well as to the individual? Who should be responsible for on-going learning? Who benefits? What is different about education for 5-18 year olds from education for adults? Maybe if we were clearer about all this we might be clearer about the sort of “systems” we need for the future.

  3. | #3

    Robyn, did you see this article from last week’s news, with the headline:
    “Life begins at 22 – not at school, says survey”


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