June 21, 2012

Evolving Education

#partnership #global #education #development

Even though technology has transformed just about every aspect of our lives one of the places where we have so far failed to seize its full potential is in the classroom.

Advances in information and communications technology have broken down barriers that once kept countries, markets and cultures apart. Technology has facilitated the creation of a global economy that is more integrated and interconnected than ever before.

Our children are growing up competing not only with others locally or even regionally. This generation competes for jobs and opportunities with others in Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, Hyderabad and other far flung places around the world.

In a day when everyone has unprecedented access to information, the education focus must shift to the application of knowledge.

Developing Capacity

An educated workforce is essential if we are to compete, innovate and survive on a global stage. Yet, as with so many critical development issues of our day, there has been more talk about the urgency of upgrading the education system than action. Failure to act is putting our future in jeopardy. The leadership decisions taken regarding education today will shape our future for generations to come.

There is a powerful connection between a holistic education system and development. Certainly we need a workforce trained in math, science, technology, history and the arts. However, development also requires people who possess an understanding of their responsibility to build a moral society. Without a holistic approach to education, our companies will innovate less, our countries will be less competitive and our regard for values and ethics will be less. Therefore, if we want to raise a generation capable of competing, innovating and taking their place in the world of tomorrow, we must relevantly educate them today.

Forcing our teachers, principals and schools to take on technology-supported education initiatives without the resources they need is not the answer.  Nor is neglecting the support-systems and incentives to attract, develop and retain quality, competent educators. Such approaches point to a future that is socially and economically untenable. Moreover, it is morally unacceptable for our children.

Leading Change

If we want to build a future-ready society, we have to move beyond old arguments, outdated texts, and obsolete approaches. We must, with boldness, abandon unfruitful programmes and take meaningful steps to build an education system consistent with our best ambitions for our children and our future.

Our educational systems must encourage critical thinking, seed an appetite for new knowledge and inspire innovation. This goes well beyond simply deploying laptops, tablets and multimedia projectors in schools.  We have to develop a generation driven to be producers, not just consumers.

Raising such a generation will require decisive leadership action.  That action must also be sincere and properly coordinated. To be effective, education reform needs leadership commitment to broader social reform.  This is why only collaborative leadership approaches to education innovation bring sustainable results.

Innovating Change

It is possible to craft an educational environment where students are excited to learn because they are receiving knowledge in schools tailored for the future.  From experience, I know this excitement is not fueled by simply filling classrooms with technology. It comes when we fill our students with a sense of hope and purpose. Remember, in this Information Age, the young are not easily deceived.

Imagine a future where our children are more motivated because they are immersed in the same technology that is increasingly surrounding them in life.  Imagine an environment where they don’t just do paper-based reports, but design multimedia presentations, build gadgets and create mobile apps.

Imagine a future where research is not only conducted using books out of a physical library, but by interacting virtually with experts from around the world. Image a context in which teachers are less a singular source of knowledge and more coaches for how best to discover and obtain new knowledge.

Positive Models

It’s not far-fetched.  It’s already happening in some of the forward thinking schools and civil-society organizations right here on the home-front.  Progressive educators are already building programs to help schools integrate technology into their curriculum so that students are fluent in the language of the digital age.  They go beyond teaching academic subjects and technical skills to emphasize team-work, critical thinking, creativity, communication skills and values. They engage parents, partner with industry and use role-models to inspire and mentor students. This is how we make sure our children are prepared for the real world. This is true education.

These positive models can be shared and the derived principles replicated throughout the system. We can promote values, foster innovation, re-train educators and strategically deploy technology. We can evolve education to meet the demands of a connected world. Doing so will require new, more meaningful debate about the evolving role of technology-driven education. However, beyond debate, achievement will require new leadership action.  We owe it to our children.