It fascinates me how much we have progressed as a society in the aspects of education (in Singapore at least). We have witnessed how the perspective on education has taken a 180° turn from something optional/a waste of resources in my parents' era to now, the full-time career for children age ±2 to 24 years old. It is a remarkable change over a short amount of time. At the same time, the nature of our environment has made tremendous evolutions. Are we, stakeholders of education, keeping up with that?
What remained unchanged...
In my opinion, the goal/intent of education has remained unchanged over the history of mankind — to prepare the people to become thriving and contributing members of society. On a side note, this is not to be confused with academia, which is the pursuit of knowledge. Regardless of stakeholder (e.g. learner, educator, parent, policymaker, etc) involved, we all strive to, by the end of the curriculum, equip our learners with the essential knowledge/skills/attitude and reap a reward greater than than the time and effort invested into the education journey.
After all, the key driver towards this revolution in the perspective of education was how the "value" of education was exemplified by the success stories of people breaking free from the poverty cycle, landing amazing careers and "out-competing" others and landing "prestigious" jobs. We see many parents and politicians share this view passionately. This, in fact, is not far from the truth since the typical definition of a successful career often involves prestige and of course, the salary it pays. Ultimately, this voice down to the demand and supply of the labour market.
And here lies important changes in education that we need to appreciate.
What has changed and MUST be known
As we know of all markets (in economic terms), it fluctuates with the societal climate and world events. As the cliche "change is the only constant" goes, it is important for us to dive deeper into understanding and appreciating what has changed so that we can adequately prepare our learners for the "right" future.
Brought about by the rapid technology advancement, our current climate can be described using the following acronym: VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). Technological advancements made communication and information flow so much faster, and like a fast-forward button, it allowed events to happen at rates faster than what most large organisations can react to. At this rate, we cannot even guarantee that the curriculum can remain relevant after our learners graduate from the programmes, considering the rate at which jobs appear and disappear.
Dwelling deeper, we have to agree that technology has surpassed humans in (1) knowledge retention and (2) performing instruction-based tasks. Understanding this reality means that we must right some of our old expectations on educations.
Since computers have a greater capacity of memory and processing capacity than humans, we need to ensure that we equip our learners with the essential elements that will not be displaced by technology. Most fundamentally, we should emphasise to learners the importance of skills and mindset over knowledge.
The challenge, however, remains that the development of skills and mindset is more of a process and of which will still require a medium for the development to take place. In other words, we still have to enforce that our learners pick up an essential set of working knowledge and have a basic level of literacy so that we can make use of this process (while they are learning the knowledge) to develop their skills and mindset.
So what should be DONE differently
Do we need a curriculum revamp? Do we adopt new approaches (e.g. problem-based learning, project-based assessment, etc)? In my opinion, yes (we should always explore for more relevant and effective approaches to achieve our education goals) BUT we don't have to wait for it.
The next time, instead of asking our children "have you done your homework", try asking them "how was the homework". Instead of just expressing concern over "what did you learn in school", find out more about the process of learning that has taken place. Chat more about how they discover and make meaning out of the knowledge that was taught (comprehension skills), how to solve a particular type of problem (problem-solving skills), or even how they deal with difficulties faced — do they raise the questions in class or clarify with their teacher/friends after class (proactive), how do they cope with a poor result (resilience).
Honestly, the outcome of both approaches (old and new) will not reap much difference while our children are in school. In fact, those who follow the "traditional" and methodical approaches (e.g. drill-and-kill, rote learning and memorising) may yield better results with lesser effort since the education system too, is playing catch up against the rapidly evolving environment. Still, going back to the goal of education, if we want to prepare our children for the real future, then we owe it to their youth to support them in the development of adequate skills and mindset to face the VUCA world.
The process is key to helping our learners develop the adequate skills and mindset. 😬