This is one of the most important and inspiring books I have read in a long time. School education fit for the 21st Century is vital for our society, an economy in which everyone can prosper and enjoy a fulfilling life, especially young people, and our role in making a better more peaceful world. It is a hopeful book. Apart from setting out the challenges we face in transforming school education, the book provides a clear pathway forward. And there is lots of good news about progressive practice.
The Fourth Revolution will transform the way we live and even transform us for the better. It will be a world of artificial intelligence (AI) . Robots, already working in factories, could soon be doing jobs like picking fruit and vegetables. It is said that by 2025 30% of jobs will be replaced by robots though new jobs will be created. The revolution could further concentrate the power and wealth of an elite or change the lives of all human beings for the better – our choice. With a Citizen’s Income and a Robot Tax , human beings could be released for rewarding work that involves our unique qualities such as compassion, caring, creativity, working with nature and work in the arts. Every day we learn of medical advances that will reduce suffering, transform human health and increase longevity. The NHS will be able put more resources into promoting healthy living, emotional wellbeing, practices such as yoga, social care and care of the old in their own homes.
Our children will face enormous challenges: We have left them with a warming planet, growing destruction of our habitat, economic injustice and mass migration caused by climate change, poverty, violence and crimes against humanity. There is the threat of nuclear war. It is vital that humanity learns how to resolve conflict without violence in deed or word. Our democracy is in urgent need of radical reform, including the vote from sixteen. This is the world our young people will live in and make their contribution.
Education has an enormous part to play in helping them address these challenges and flourish. We could be at a historic a tipping point.
It is difficult to do full justice to a book of sixteen unique essays. All are valuable contributions by people who know what they are talking about, people not only in education but experts in other relevant fields such as future trends and the challenges people of all ages will face. They are people with farsighted vision and clarity about children’s need for an education that prepares all of them to thrive in the world of the future. Not the superficial, tired old debates so popular with some government ministers and politicians about global league tables, outdated ideas, whether we should have more grammar schools, more discipline and strict uniform policies etc.
The book divided into four parts framed by the Introduction and Conclusion consists of sixteen essays. The four parts are: The Urgent Case for Change. Making a difference: Parents, Pedagogy, Knowledge and Intellectualism. Making it Count: Examinations, Evidence and Outcomes. Making it Happen: Politics, Progress and a Peaceful world.
The first question asked is: what is the fundamental purpose of education – what is it for? Two chapters provide answers to this question. Chapter 1 – Bringing Schools to Life by Guy Claxon sets out suggestions under these headings: Outcomes – Every child deserves a good education and to feel they have received one. He describes what they have a right to expect. Parents – Their concerns, and they need to find their voice. Intellectualism – children who may not be academic yet offer different talents need to be equipped for future vocations vital to our society. British education continues to suffer from the consequences of an academic bias. Examinations – All kinds of outcomes should be valued – not just academic ones but qualities of mind such as perseverance, self-control, curiosity, concentration and empathy and pleasure in reading and learning. Pedagogy – the way teachers teach. Knowledge – What is likely to matter most in the mid to late 21st century? Evidence– conventional tests do not provide evidence of qualities that matter most such as determination. Progress – There are many pioneering beacons throughout the world providing the education required by a wide range of children. We need to learn from them. Ofsted must adapt and update its criteria. Politics – With few exceptions, politicians need to inform themselves and do much better. A peaceful world – We have large numbers of migrants many of whom feel unsettled, anxious and aimless. Seeds of violence will not flourish if children all over the country are given a good education that addresses their needs and through that they can see they can have fulfilling lives and contribute to society.
Chapter 3 – What is Education for? Renewing the Purpose of Education by Valerie Hannon particularly interested me. She argues that the current mass education system that emerged to serve in the 19th Century Industrial Revolution is failing our children. The welter of changes under the banner of “school reform” have been superficial and have manifestly failed. Indeed they have exhausted and alienated teachers. In the section, What are these failings? she describes the dissatisfaction and alienation of the profession, growing costs and failure to meet the needs of children, the nation and indeed the world in the present times. She argues that politicians’ ideas of promoting growth (a wealth extraction process), boosting national GDP and turning education into a sort of global arms race are threadbare.
“There is no clear narrative for public education today that both connects with the realities people are experiencing and faces up to what can confidently said to be on our horizon….. Reflecting on the scale and direction of these shifts, I believe education has to be about learning to thrive in a transforming world.” (My bold).
The future is of course unknowable and the ability to thrive in uncertainty is part of the education that is needed. She describes the changes in three categories: Our Planet’s Predicament, The Supremacy of Technology and Designing our own evolution. Planetary/global thriving, National/Local thriving inter-personal thriving, intra-personal thriving and in Where are the politicians who will face this? She asks where are there the new generation of politicians to create a fresh narrative and new possibilities.
Themes One common theme is about helping all young people be who they truly are, enjoy their lives, adapt and make their unique lifetime contribution. There are of course many themes that appear throughout the book, some suggested by these chapter titles: Bringing schools to life. Awakening Adventure – Liberating Imagination, The socially connected teacher. No parent left behind.
Here I try to provide the essence of some of these themes:
- Every child has a right to a joyful childhood and being loved unconditionally for who they are – Carl Rogers.
- Schools need to model how a good organisation should be: compassionate for example and show how an organisation learns as well as teaches. They need to model being democratic rather than authoritarian. That means being loving towards everyone – yes, loving organisations is a vital notion.
- Teachers deserve a rewarding life – not the current stress they are subject to. They can only give their best if they enjoy their work.
- They need to be skilful, not just in teaching, but in the soft skills of helping children emotionally, helping them to value themselves, not to self-deprecate, that feelings are OK and how to deal with difficulty and thrive.
- They should encourage every young person to Dare to be great in whatever way is right for them – by example.
- Every child is unique and her/his education needs to focus on helping bring out their unique talents. So many talents are needed, all valuable and none are superior to others. Hence valuing education for all kinds of vocations – not prioritising academic education as if it were the most important.
- Their education should equip them to thrive in an unpredictable transforming world and encourage an international outlook.
- Collaboration is the only way to create a better, fairer and peaceful world. Hence the school needs to demonstrate how to learn with others, have a constructive dialogue rather than wanting to win in a debate. That means respecting and valuing difference. And learning by doing.
- Children need help in learning how to learn, be inquisitive, to question, to research and form their own views. Also how to use the internet and social networking safely.
- They need to learn how to be hopeful, visionary, to imagine and believe anything is possible.
- The importance for everyone involved of good supportive relationships, teachers, parents and children if they are to do all these things.
Conclusion: This book is a call to everyone to create a movement for the change they want to see: A powerful collaboration of school leaders, teachers, pupils, parents, governors and politicians will succeed. You are not alone. There is a world movement with similar aspirations. At the end of the book, there is a list of organisational resources in the UK and Internationally that you can use to inform and empower yourself to take powerful action with like-minded people.
Read this book, be inspired and challenged, join Education Forward and decide what you will do as a result of reading this wonderful book.