We’ve all read articles recently relating to the changing face of work, new skills, jobs that are disappearing, new jobs emerging and so on. Whilst these make for compelling reading, the question remains, how are schools and universities adapting to meet these needs? One would assume that, if so much is shifting at such a pace, then what schools teach and how they operate would have to change significantly too.
Given the pace of change, regularly adjusting the content of our curriculum doesn’t work. As soon as teachers, already working at warp speed to keep up with the challenges of Covid-19, manage to get to grips with the new content, it changes again. Our teachers are already under significant pressure given the impact of Covid-19, let’s not push them closer to the edge. No, we need to think more about redesigning the curriculum and give greater thought to skills, concepts, and our students’ attributes. Knowledge is still critically important, but we must have tough conversations about what is still relevant (or ‘lifeworthy’ as David Perkins proposes in his book, ‘Future Wise’) and what is no longer of greatest value. We cannot include everything.
If we consider the purposes of education, we will no doubt argue long into the night and beyond. However, I have had these conversations many times and the responses often settle around four key goals:
- The development and use of knowledge, skills, understandings, and attitudes to tackle real-world, contemporary issues
- Preservation and celebration of our cultures whilst demonstrating an acceptance, curiosity, and openness towards the cultures of others
- The ethical economic growth of our communities
- Ensuring our young people are able to flourish cognitively (developing a lifelong love of learning), mentally, physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.
Before we think about learning experiences, let’s first consider how we would measure success against these four domains. Currently we have an assessment model that is dominated by high stakes examinations and standardised tests. These can do an excellent job of highlighting the facts our students are able to store in their working memories for a few hours before decay consigns them to the recycle bin, never to reach the holy grail of long-term storage. But surely we have loftier goals for assessing our young people than that?
I would suggest a move away from our overreliance on written examinations that penalise those students who experience anxiety and stress levels that exceed what is healthy, and unfairly disadvantage those that may have many strengths but writing happens not to be one of them. Many university students I’ve spoken with even select courses because they do not have a formal examination, rather than because they are passionate about the subject. Performance tasks, collaborative projects, interdisciplinary activities, presentations, and debates with Q & A, are all much more inclusive in their approach and offer a range of ways students can demonstrate their learning. And yes, they can be extremely rigorous – anyone who has made a pitch to clients and had to field challenging questions will attest to that.
Only when we have had these conversations can we redesign the curriculum to include relevant, enticing and lifeworthy learning opportunities that align to the four domains. Too often, we ‘bolt on’ modules such as cyber-safety, climate change and human migration when in fact these should be integral to a contemporary curriculum. We already have tools such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that can guide us in creating these highly relevant and challenging learning experiences. Core skills such as reading, writing, and numeracy are of course still critically important, but so are creativity, resilience, collaboration, and adaptability. No one said rethinking assessment and curriculum redesign was easy, but it’s so important if our children are going to be prepared for the world they are living in and the ways it will change.
Graeme Scott is Executive Chairperson of The MARIO Framework
The MARIO Framework is a global organisation that supports neurodiverse students in becoming self-directed learners through a range of professional development opportunities for teachers, free research summaries and software solutions that schools can use to manage their learning support processes.