The economic imperativeEducation is often justified – by governments and others – as an investment in national competitiveness and prosperity, producing a workforce that is highly skilled, creative and adaptable to compete in global markets. But how well are schools doing in terms of producing large numbers of youngsters with these characteristics? Report after report show ‘a significant disconnection between education systems around the world and the needs of 21st century employers’. There are repeated calls for a curriculum which would be effective at cultivating a core set of ‘generic skills and attitudes, pre-eminently, the ability to learn’.
The personal imperativeIn the complex currents of globalisation, young people find growing up in the 21st century hard. Exposure to multiple pressures and uncertainties concerning deep issues such as livelihood, sustainability, sexuality, loyalty and identity is driving young people to despair or more reckless behaviour. Whether young people flounder or flourish in the wider maelstrom of conflicting images and ideas depends on the resources they have at their disposal. To swim or sink demands a high level of mental and emotional development. A growing body of opinion says it is the job of education to help young people, and argues that it is much less important to reach the prescribed level of mathematical understanding for their age than it is to have the resilience and resourcefulness to respond to more general, real-world kinds of pressure and uncertainty.
The social imperativeThe UK government’s major Foresight project on ‘Mental capital and well being’ gathered a wide range of expert advice on foreseeable social and technological trends and the personal and material resources that will be needed to meet the likely challenges and opportunities. The report included that human well being in a complex time will become increasingly dependent on the dispositions to be curious, inquisitive, experimental, reflective and sociable – in short to be lifelong and life-wide learners.
And othersThere are many more imperatives that come into play.
The digital imperative. If we do not find things to teach children in schools that cannot be learned from a machine, we should not be surprised if they come to treat schooling as a series of irritating interruptions to their education. The assessment imperative. With more than half of 16 year olds leaving school with less than the UK government’s own benchmark for a ‘good enough’ education, they come away with a relative sense of failure. From an assessment and certification point of view, there has to be another ‘way of winning’ at school that is valued by young people themselves. It is much harder to find ways of showing whether 16-year-olds are more inquisitive, determined, imaginative and convivial than they were, say, a year ago, so politicians don’t try. But unless such indicators are developed, GCSE and A-level results will continue to be the tail that wags the dog of education. The disaffection imperative. Over 67,000 children play truant every day and the rate is rising. There are plenty of other dispiriting statistics which together carry the message that many students are disengaged from school. They need a richer pedagogical environment where they can engage more purposefully with subjects and projects that really interest them. The success imperative. There is good evidence to suggest that schools are failing high achievers too. They know how to get good grades but often develop an anxious attitude to their own performance. They know how to succeed but they haven’t learned how to fail or how to struggle. The happiness imperative.What does it take to be happy in a complex, challenging, and fast-changing world? Winning the lottery? Material wealth? Managing negative emotions? One of the most reliable sources of happiness turns out to be learning. People report feeling happy when they are engaged in wrestling with something difficult but worthwhile; when they feel in charge, and are not criticised by others. So if we want our children to be happy we need to help them to discover the ‘joy of struggle’ and understand and develop the craft of worthwhile learningTaken together, we (along with many others) think the arguments for a radical re-think of priorities and practices in education are overwhelming. Furthermore, they all point in the direction of what BLP is trying to achieve.