In order to provide 21st century skills to primary and secondary school aged children, technology must be leveraged to expand classrooms and marks of quality must be based on learning outcomes, they argued at the Education World Forum, the world’s largest summit of education ministers, in London this week.
Mmantsetsa Marope, director of UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education, highlighted that 263 million primary and secondary school aged children lack access to education worldwide, and for many more, the quality of education they can access is not of the standard it needs to be.
“The question is: what is so mysterious about this industry of ours that somehow it is not delivering?”
Under standard teaching models, the world would need some 6.6 million teachers to provide comprehensive access to education up to secondary level, estimated Marope.
“So we can no longer proceed with teacher policies that speak of student and teacher ratio in the old way of assuming there will be one teacher per 40 students,” she urged.
“[Instead] we need to explore how to leverage technology to pool the few effective teachers that teach the world and not to teach the number of students that are in front of them.”
However, it is not only the number of teachers that is a problem. “Most education systems are not producing the level of quality in terms of learning outcomes that is desired,” she said.
“The question is: what is so mysterious about this industry of ours that somehow it is not a delivering industry?” she challenged.
“If we were in the private sector and learning outcomes were our bottom line, many education systems would be closed because they are making a loss.”
Throughout the event, educators, policymakers and other stakeholders were challenged to answer whether education properly equips students with the skills they need to succeed in the labour market, for example.
Rukmani Banerji, CEO of Pratham, one of India’s largest NGOs that provides reading camps to students, questioned whether education systems give enough credit to 21st century skills, such as problem solving and operating technology.
She noticed that although many of the children taking part in one camp had limited reading skills, they quickly cracked the password on an iPad they were given to help them learn.
But rigid models of assessment can often stifle innovation in teaching and curricula, some speakers suggested.
Emphasis on rankings has led teachers to spend a lot of time on testing at the expense of teaching, contended Uganda’s first lady and minister of education and sport, Janet Museveni.
“Education systems are designed to keep education in and everything else out – it’s the same with assessment”
“Education systems are designed to keep education in and everything else out – it’s the same with assessment,” said Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at OECD, nodding to closed exams that require students to answer questions in isolation, remembering facts and without the ability to collaborate or use external research tools.
But in most jobs, the ability to work with others and solve problems using resources like the internet, are valued more highly than the ability to remember facts; but the current system generates “students who are great at problem solving, but can’t share knowledge”, he said.
“[But] the modern world no longer rewards you for what you know,” he commented. Instead, education must instead act as a compass enabling students to “navigate” and make judgements, he argued.
A more effective kind of teaching, he said, demands a “very different calibre of teachers”, but often teachers don’t feel they have the flexibility or the authority to adapt curricula to students’ needs and to the changing needs of the times.
“We can’t wait for a spaceship to bring us a new generation of teachers; the idea of making teaching a profession is that teachers can adapt, rather than bureaucracy shaping teaching.”
Haif Bannayan, CEO of Queen Rania Teacher Academy in Jordan, echoed that teacher training often doesn’t equip educators on the frontline of teaching to adapt to change.
“We must avoid the ‘presentism trap’” of thinking everything will stay the same, he warned. “The success of any education system today lies in our ability to innovate.”