As we rapidly progress towards the 22nd century, education has been slowly gearing toward the actualization of how learning needs to be more purposeful, albeit with content knowledge acquirement still being necessary and assessments still a main driver for knowing how well children are doing. Perhaps with technology and predictive analytics, we can begin experimenting with assessments in more unobtrusive manners and hence, not have the means become the ends of education.
Moreover, we know that the young are creatively intrepid and hungry in finding out and deciding for themselves what they regard as meaningful at an astonishingly fast pace. They are digital natives who swiftly devour information online; far more intelligent than credited for – although at times they may appear insufficiently critical about the information they consume. The international policy discourse seems to suggest that education should transform to cater for such times and needs.
Educational Demands – Drawing an Analogy from Climate Change
In an article published recently in Scientific American, it found that global decisions and defining measures in national climate change policy this year were not from state figures nor internationally acclaimed spokespersons, but youths. The young have become a voice that governments pay attention to, perhaps much to the chagrin of scientists and environmentalists who have been doing some chest thumping on environmental advocacies for more than a decade.
Without a doubt, teenagers like Miss Greta Thunberg – a vocal advocate for climate change – embody the courage, tenacity and veracity of knowledge of many teenagers around the world, including Singapore.
We wonder if, in the context of educational change, youths’ voices can be just as compelling. It seems that parallels can be drawn between the contestation for global climate sustainability and educational change, with young people around the world as vocal representations of change-makers.
Today in a situation closer to home, the COVID-19 pandemic has made home-based learning (HBL) a necessity, which teachers and students have embraced with little fanfare. It seems that technology is here to stay and would be even more needed going forward. The question is whether technology persuades us to embrace education change sooner rather than later?
“So this interesting turn to HBL demonstrates rather aptly how immensely important the role of technology is, but more importantly the teaching and learning practices that can truly be transformed with the times.”
– Dr Johannis and Prof David Hung on how the pivot to HBL can transform teaching and learning practices
The Futures in Education
Research into the learning sciences over some 12 years at the National Institute of Education (NIE), Singapore so far have substantiated this realization for some time, but the general acknowledgement has been slow. So this interesting turn to HBL demonstrates rather aptly how immensely important the role of technology is, but more importantly the teaching and learning practices that can truly be transformed with the times.
Singapore, in particular, has evolved its education system with great success. We have made progressive educational shifts that are well thought out. Today’s curriculum focuses on life-long learning, Applied Learning and 21st century competencies, including coding for all students and more.
Based on evidence collected through turn-key collaborations with schools and the teaching fraternity in longitudinal and targeted investigations, NIE-NTU researchers have provided prevailing evidence of positive learning outcomes to back up critical analyses for systematic efforts that are beneficial to learners and schools, with recent emphasis on students from disadvantaged backgrounds and low progress students. But of course, more can be done.
If we want to keep having a meaningful education experience for our young, we must also aim to accept that education has to keep evolving. There is hence simply no one-size-fits-all approach to education, even though the current promises of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and analytics provide us with some hope that more personalised learning is possible.
The best we can give our children now is to foster their curiosity and love for learning, which is evident in their preschool years, and can span into adulthood. This is how we can ensure that we keep addressing the major concerns that parents have for their children, meet tomorrow’s demands in knowledge, skills and character dispositions and cultivate the young minds of today. Youths can be encouraged to be more agentic with a voice on matters concerning society and the global world.
For each new shift in education, the climate of change (with no pun intended) can certainly allow us to keep achieving much more than these concerns for decades to come. But this requires a concerted mindset and a heart of care and purpose by stakeholders, perhaps much like how we can be more environmentally sensitive to recycling and the many new initiatives we make to sustain the climate and environment for our children tomorrow.
Future of Education – the 5Cs
“Ultimately, when learners come together and become passionate on a cause and purpose, they can be a voice advocating towards a larger societal endeavour. It becomes their identity and this morphs into a passion which they may wish to pursue beyond their schooling years.”
The 5Cs of schooling, as we are proposing, lie in the cultivating of process skills and values namely in the dimensions of: 1) Character and Citizenship Education (CCE), 2) Creative Thinking, 3) Critical thinking, 4) Compassion, and 5) Connectedness.
Teachers have to teach content, but in the process of doing that well, every teacher imparts the 5Cs. In other words, every teacher is a CCE teacher, and every teacher role models and teaches critical and creative thinking. Likewise, the teacher exemplifies connectedness and compassion towards all students. The rise of AI, while useful in some areas of students’ learning, cannot engender social-emotional competencies and values such as compassion, which are largely human dispositional traits. Similarly, humans are creative, and machines can only simulate creativity.
Regarding climate change, former Education Minister Ong Ye Kung once remarked in a Facebook post, “What I would recommend against is to have a specific subject in climate change, or worse, make it examinable! It is far more meaningful to embed these lessons into existing school subjects and activities, and inculcate in students good habits, such as reducing the use of air-con or devices, minimising wastage, saving water, to do our part for the environment.” In the same vein, the 5Cs should be integrated into the curriculum and content throughout the schooling years and beyond.
Good learning begins at home, which is further fostered in schools and during after-school curricular programmes. In education, parents should work hand in hand with schools (and other relevant stakeholders in society) to enable children’s learning. HBL is one such example. Parental concern should be a concerted effort in tandem with teachers (and other stakeholders) in the “classroom” (be it in schools or at home).
Instead of steering children into an educational arms race, parents should encourage them to see more purposeful oriented outcomes of education and not just the instrumental. The discourse between parents and children should shift from one of grades and performances to that of learning, by asking their children “What have you learned today?” instead of “What grade did you receive today?”
Learning is not just an individual affair but a social phenomenon with others. Ultimately, when learners come together and become passionate on a cause and purpose, they can be a voice advocating towards a larger societal endeavour. It becomes their identity and this morphs into a passion which they may wish to pursue beyond their schooling years. Cultivating students’ interest and curiosity becomes a foundational cornerstone that would enable them to be self-regulated and self-directed individuals.
Miss Thunberg’s passion for climate sustainability resonated with many and ultimately she did raise awareness, which is something the youth today should advocate for with regard to having a greater voice in education. Starting with the 5Cs, we can enable our youths to be critical, passionate and empathetic. Having a voice in school and taking responsibility for others around them is a great starting point. We can get our students to be not just concerned with the “head” but with the “heart” and “hand”, to care for global issues with local involvement. To be globally aware of change issues, as this COVID-19 pandemic is fore-telling, is to be globally connected to macro societal and civic concerns, yet locally concerned with the surroundings around us.