Is Education Fit for Purpose?
In order to answer the question ‘is education fit for purpose? we need to decide what that purpose is.
In ‘Can education reform produce sustainable citizens’, I proposed that one objective of education is to produce sustainable citizens. A sustainable citizen is ‘someone who takes responsibility for themselves and is a mindful contributor to solving problems – personal, local and global.’ A citizen also needs to be productive and have a job that satisfies personally and contributes to the economy of the local and global society that they are part of.
In July 2014, the UK Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion published a report stating that:
‘The consequence of not meeting this [education to employment gap] challenge by 2022 will be:
- 9.2 million low skilled people chasing 3.7 million low skilled jobs – a surplus of 5.5 million low skilled workers with an increasing risk of unemployment
- 12.6 million people with intermediate skills will chase 10.2 million jobs – a surplus of 2.4 million people
- Employers will struggle to recruit to the estimated 14.8 million high skilled jobs with only 11.9 million high skilled workers – a gap of 2.9 million.’
The total effect on GDP is calculated at a potential risk of £375 billion.
But is education to blame? In McKinsey on Society’s 2012 report on ‘Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works’, more than 8,000 young people, employers and education providers in nine countries were polled and more than 100 education to employment systems were studied in 25 countries.
The key findings were that:
- Worldwide, young people are three times more likely than their parents to be out of work. The number of unemployed youth is estimated to be 75 million.
- 39% of employers say a skills shortage is a leading reason for entry-level vacancies.
- Only 31% of employers found that they were able to recruit the right skills for their job vacancies.
- Only half of youth believe that their post-secondary studies improved their employment opportunities.
- Stakeholders hold different views about the readiness of graduate for the job market. Almost twice as many education providers polled considered young people graduated with the necessary skills for employment, as the young people themselves and the employers looking to hire.
From the opinions of those polled, we can surmise that education is not fit for purpose. Today’s education is not producing graduates with the right skills for today’s job market. Worryingly, the education system seems blind to this fact. Given the entrenched and protective nature of education we are unlikely to see an easy, or quick, solution that the providers will willingly adopt.
It is somewhat depressing that an education system established in the UK in the 19c to provide recruits for agriculture, industry or the colonial machine, is still our model. The world has moved on and, whilst that model was very successful for the UK in the 19 and early 20c, it is not a model for the whole world or the demands and skills of the 21c.
So, what do we need to do to change?
We need to get the educators and employers to do some joined up thinking and realise that they are accountable to one another in order to sustain citizens and sustain each other. It is a symbiotic relationship
Currently, there are no models that map the education to employment journey and so it is hard for either side to establish a common understanding of the situation and the repercussions of national curricula on the skills required for employment.
Indeed, perhaps, the first step is to make education answerable to a new set of criteria relating to the 21c not the 19c?
There are too many people still looking at old solutions for new problems and history tells us this will not work.
We need a completely new education model that will challenge everyone. Which, satisfies all stakeholders equally as this is the only viable way towards a sustainable system.
Perhaps it education itself is an old fashioned concept, should we not be talking about learning and skills for life?
The days of living on one set of skills is finished and there must be a core set of skills we now need which are radically different to the academic skills we are being taught in our formal education programmes.
Learning is changing, the world is changing and we need to adapt to survive, collectively, economically, socially and individually.
We need to embrace the concept and challenge of learning for life, but also not only that learning constantly and being able to evaluate what and how we learn.
Even the theory under which we are taught is fallacious. The underpinning theory of teaching is based upon ‘learning styles’, a concept which has never been proven!
To learn to learn is the primary skill we need and that is not taught in our current education system, the evidence of that is quite clear.
To read the full report click on ‘Education to employment: Designing a system that works’
More articles exploring education reform and online learning are published on my website People Communicate
‘Lessons from Finland kill 99% of GERMS’, what a brilliant headline to this piece by Pasi Sahlberg a Finnish education innovator and commentator.
What he is referring to in GERMS is the acronym for The Global Education Reform Movement.
In a brutal but fair summary of the changes and policies, other countries have adopted he surmises they would have all been better off using the Finnish system and avoiding GERMS. But here I think we need to differentiate between government and centralised change and the external ideas and concepts.
He is quite correct in his summary of what has been called a ‘reform movement’ and what it’s policies have been.
- Focus on core subjects
- Quicker and cheaper way of achieving learning goals
- Corporate management models
- Test-based accountability
I have written about Ed 3.0 and the education revolution, or reform before, but Pasi’s piece has made me think that we should also consider what damage has been done by the poor recent centralised changes.
Standardisation in the 80’s and 90’s across western European and the USA concentrated on the outcomes of education as the indicator for improved education by testing students and teachers.
In fact, what has happened is stress and breakdown in the processes as I wrote last week in my piece about Stress and Tragedy in the UK Education System.
It also has managed to achieve the lowest common denominator and made individuality and creativity in the teaching process impossible.
Of course, the drive was financially based and a good example of how to apply management philosophy to learning without understanding what damage it will do.
The other change to accompany standardisation was the focus on core subjects which while logical has again been detrimental to the teaching process.
The subjects not included in the ‘core’, were humanities, arts, music and physical education and we have caused numerous social problems, like obesity as a result of this act. We also realise now that we lack creative thinking in our student output mainly as a consequence of these two initiatives.
The outcome of the first two concepts is to make schools and teachers take a pragmatic and effect based views of their profession and process.
The emphasis on results and measurement by testing has restricted teachers time and input to focus on ways of achieving the results which in turn causes teachers to teach for exams.
The outcome is we now have students who know how to pass exams but not to think. Not surprising really?
The use of the business model and cultures on education has driven the pursuit of business, economic and fiscal goals above goals based on moral, cultural and human improvement and values.
Lastly, test accountability and the above models have created a fear of being punishment amongst teachers and schools and diverted attention from teaching to avoiding penalties, a real corporate malaise that destroys freedom and creativity.
Pasi goes on to say that none of these ideas have been adopted in Finland where they would rather promote the creativity of teachers, students and the overall happiness and achievements of students.
Needless, to say they score highly on academic scales such as PISA.
Here, however, I start to disagree, I think that he is oversimplifying the issues.
There is no doubt that by not taking these measures the Finnish education system offers good ‘control’ of what might have happened if we had not gone in this direction.
But I would propose three things;
- First they are doing well because they have an advanced culture in and so the education system and its achievements are part of a wider social success
- Second that they are also facing problems in common with other education systems
- Third that the motivation of students comes from independence, relevant factual teaching context and understanding how learning helps them to achieve their individual goals
While it is interesting to analyse why we are where we are, the problems caused by the policies above are only part of the picture.
The main issues are and will remain as follows
- Central control of education policy and curricula
- The fear of change and innovation in teachers and schools
- Not understanding what the overall goals of education are
- Not understanding how to engage with online learning and commerce
- Not teaching teachers new skills because of the lack of strategic vision
- Not putting teachers and students at the centre of the process
So it’s interesting to look back and assess where we’ve come from only if it helps us to look forward.
As Einstien said, ‘ We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’
Funny, I keep finding myself coming back to this quote again and again.
So let’s look forward and think creatively about this problem and come up with new solutions!
In an article called, ‘Is 2016 The Year That Progressive Education Returns’, Robert Sun discusses the past and current education trends and predicts that 2016 will be the for Passion-Based-Learning. I am sure we hope it is!
Progressive Education was a movement responding to a rigid education system based on 19-century principles. It sought to break away from a curriculum based subject approach and teaching themes cutting across subjects, motivating students by harnessing their enthusiasm and basing content on real life experiences.
Not so different to what many have been talking about for the 21 century?
After initial success, it fell victim to post-war conservatism and the fear of the ‘cold war’ propaganda, which was a shame. It has remerged today under a different guise but driven by a similar motive to find something to suit a changing society where the demands of the labour market are not being met by current education systems and pedagogy.
The drivers now are
- learners styles and behaviours have changed and are no longer compatible with teaching styles
- society and the job market are changing faster than ever before, and employees have to embrace constant and life-long learning to keep up
- the demands are for skills, not a fact based approach
But today with faster communication on The Internet the speed of change to drive these movements is faster, and access to alternative means of educating, like home-based learning make opting out more viable. The trend of rejecting traditional education is growing fast.
‘One need only look at the state of education in the U.S. today to realize people are looking for answers. The pushback over high-stakes testing isn’t abating; in New York state alone, 20% of all public school students—more than 200,000 in all—have opted out of such tests. In Pennsylvania, the opt-out movement has grown by more than 300%.’
Some countries have already moved in this direction, and there are exploratory progressive programmes in Scandanavia and Holland which have been very successful.
But it’s not just formal education that needs to change in response to the above drivers, it is also a recruitment processes.
Measuring academic success as a predictor of job success is not working, and human resource managers are looking for new ways to measure the holistic skills and traits of candidates in addition to looking at their academic records.
There are currently many barriers to change.
- teachers skills and attitudes
- centralised control and funding of education
- over testing and rigid system
- lack of e learning integration
Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is that there is no cross-discipline, cross organisation, international perspective to give us a helicopter view of education, recruitment and the economic perspectives?
Finally, it will be the customers, the parents and students who will drive change, not governments or economists. It is already happening and whether its’ Passion-Based-Learning’ or something else it is happening now.
To see the full article click on this link .
This is fascinating and could be a landmark statement by the CEO McGraw-Hill, David Levin. He says in a plea, reported in the Huffington Post, ‘Dear students and faculty: please go digital’. He then cites a number of figures from their own research stating that students perform as much as 50% better online than those reading books.
I am not going to disagree with that!
Of course, they have a commercial ‘axe to grind’, they are publicising their own adaptive learning system. But, as usual, it’s a great idea and a great statement, but there is no explanation of strategy or how this is to be done.
At best, it is a simplistic article nevertheless it raises the right issues.
The question is how do faculty teachers, in ‘American speak’, and students manage this. Teaching is somewhere between an art and a science and teachers need to understand how to change their methods to allow for this online learning environment which is not just a question of content. It’s also a question of methodology and how it needs to be adapted to the learning needs of todays digital natives.
The other interesting question it raises is, why do we need publishers? Most of the content created is created by subject matter experts, many of whom are, or were, teachers. If we are publishing in an online environment why do the teachers need a publisher to publish the content online for them when they’re quite capable of doing this themselves.
In fact, with our new concept they will not only be able to do it more effectively but also gain a better understanding of what sort of methodology they should be adopting!
What publishers are usually talking about is not e-learning but simply e-books. Albeit, in this case the progress through the books is being tracked and we could presume there is some attempt at creating learning pathways to tie the content to.
However we can do better by allowing teachers to create their own interactive online content, in their own online spaces, to share with their students or to sell to other teachers – without the intervention and margin of a publisher. Of course, as teachers, we want to encourage further reading around the subject but directing students to further online research and content by subject experts is developing crucial life skills.
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