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Transforming education: why we cannot afford to go ‘back to normal’

Floyd Woodrow MBE DCM, Founder and CEO, Quantum Group
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With the lifting of many restrictions placed on us by Covid-19, there’s been a lot of talk about things going ‘back to normal’.

In the education system the pandemic has hit educators and students hard; we’ve had to adjust to new ways of learning, as well as approaching lessons in a completely different way.

How well educators coped with the new arrangements is testament to the determination and enthusiasm they have for helping their charges make a brighter future for themselves.

This demonstration of how adaptable we can be and how we can overcome problems creatively shouldn’t be taken lightly — in fact, we should be using it as a catalyst for overhauling how we approach the process of education in the future.

‘Normal’ is not good enough

I can imagine that parents and guardians of school-age children particularly will be thrilled about the prospect of going ‘back to normal’. But this view is somewhat short-sighted.

This is the exact moment that we should be rejecting the old ways of doing things. The pandemic has highlighted the need to completely rethink the way we teach our youth and how we prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead. We should be using this opportunity to forge a new path.

Simply teaching students facts and figures so that they can recall them in an examination hall — only to forget most of them as soon as they gain their qualifications — is not the benchmark we should be using. Unless we teach them how to learn, and to keep on learning, then we have failed them.

Think about the challenges the younger generation face as they grow up in a world threatened by environmental catastrophe. Previous generations have largely failed to take the issue of climate change seriously enough, passing on the problem to the new generation. If this wasn’t enough, the longer-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are yet to be fully understood and could have a massive impact on our future.

It is the younger generation who are going to have to drive radical change in the world in order to prevent climate catastrophe. Developing and executing the policies that can mitigate the disasters that lie ahead is a formidable challenge, so it is vital that we nurture a group of people who have the skills and resilience to do so.

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Be a coach — not an instructor

​​Therefore, purely providing instruction is not enough; there needs to be more emphasis on coaching students. This is how we can give them the sense of personal responsibility required to develop the life skills they will need in a rapidly-changing world. We need to impress on all students the importance of the process of education. Only then can they fully understand that learning isn’t just something that happens in environments such as schools and colleges and the workplace, but everywhere around us throughout our entire lives.

It is fundamental that educators help students to develop a mindset that enables them to understand the world around them. There are learnings we can take from all aspects of our lives and experiences; we shouldn’t require these to be presented to us formally in order to take them on board. All of us need to be capable of being our own educator.

So what are the other skills we need to be teaching students?

Well, we have already talked about developing resilience, and helping them to prioritise their mental wellbeing is another key area. By paying attention to sleep, nutrition, hydration, exercise and mindfulness, and thinking about how they continue to incorporate these good habits into their lives in the future, students can put themselves on the right path.

Other critical principles that we need to place emphasis on are leadership and teamwork. Many students might not consider themselves to be ‘natural’ leaders, but learning how to be a leader is crucial in order to be able to take personal responsibility, which is one of the most fundamental life skills.

Teamwork is also incredibly important. Students need to understand how they fit into a team, the dynamic between all of the team members and how the team can work together towards common goals. Ensuring that the team also has a shared ethos and learning how to resolve conflicts should play a part too. It is our challenge, as educators, to develop methods of coaching students to nurture these skills while satisfying the requirements of the examination boards.

Creating global citizens

We require a renaissance in education, focusing on giving youngsters the adaptability and flexibility required for a rapidly-changing world. In order to prioritise wellbeing and resilience among young people, there has to be a more holistic approach that focuses on learning rather than instruction.  

And this new way of doing things shouldn’t be limited to schools, colleges and universities — adapting these techniques to the workplace and wider society is vital if we want to create a generation of well-rounded, capable global citizens.

Floyd Woodrow MBE DCM, Founder and CEO, Quantum Group

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