Educating for the future

Eugenio Severín 5 Abril 2011 Comentarios

For some time I believe that many of our educational leaders have promoted reforms in our educational systems thinking in a logic of “enhancements” to a system designed centuries ago, without asking whether it remains an appropriate response to the needs of the 21st century.

With the best intentions, our reformers have focused on “patching” the educational system, to deliver the level of quality that they supposedly once had. But it is not the system (managers, teachers, school time, computers, books), but education. By returning to the fundamental question: For what world are we preparing students today?

Education should always be a bet for the future. Virtually all areas of society have changed dramatically over the last thirty years, driven by technology and other factors. We all realize this.

I remember as a young child, each of my medical checks were made by Dr. Patricio Middleton. There was almost no difference between appointments in his office or my home:  just a thermometer, a little hammer on my knees and a light to check my throat, eyes and ears. Three questions about the symptoms, and we already had a diagnosis and treatment. Did not trouble the doctor, if I’m still here, alive and healthy. But I do not see anyone saying we should renounce the huge changes and advances that technology has offered for the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Being a doctor is radically different today than thirty years ago. Being an engineer, lawyer, journalist, designer and almost any profession, too. Not to mention the many labor activities thirty years ago did not even exist. Being a teacher, however, is more or less the same. Dramatically, to be a student is not very different.

Even seemingly successful experiences in educational achievement in some schools, foundations and municipalities are under metrics of the past. Or did anyone really think that education ends at the results of PISA, TIMMS or any standardized test?

It is easier to blame the teachers, universities, lack of economic resources, parents, or the context that made the basic question. The global judgment on teachers seems particularly unfair. Of course there are some who never had to study teaching or arrive at a school, but I’m sure that most try a heroic job. I’ve seen so many of them frustrated, trapped in a system that forces them to comply with a curriculum and a sequence that they realize it does not work and yet cannot change substantially.

Does it make sense in the context of much greater diversity, that the educational system group students following the simple criterion of age? Is there an explanation to why all of them continue to offer the same curriculum, in the same sequence and with the same methodology, without considering the characteristics and interests of each student? Will we still rank and punish schools and teachers by results on standardized tests of language and mathematics, without considering other variables that enhance the quality of educational provision? Will we still fret in the discussion on the institutionalization of education rather than asking what skills and competencies that we should be developing in our students and teach them how to measure them?

As the must-see “Fable of the Roasted Pig” shows, it is a shame that caught up in correcting the past, we do not move forward in creating the future.

Thinking again essentially forces us to think of a more personalized and flexible educational offering, focusing on developing skills and competencies (creativity and innovation, critical thinking, collaboration and communication, among others) more connected to the society in which it is located.

    2 comentarios en “Educating for the future

    1. tom abeles

      The problem lies in the bureaucracy controlling education and the university colleges of education which have not changed how they prepare individuals to meet the needs of the future. Until both the bureaucrats and the academics agree that the programs for education change and the regulations support dynamic change, every individual who enters the system is in a constant state of catching up.

    2. Lee Havis

      Very well said. Sadly, I don’t if there is anyone listening. The curriculum model of conventional schooling seems firmly established by all the entities in control of education in Latin America. Since the conventional educators in each country control the use of funds you provide, I don’t see any way to actually achieve the more individualized approach you are advocating here.

      I would go even further than individualized academic study, to focusing more on “free choice” based on normal character development. The “character teaching” project aims to do this, but the government education officials in Latin America seem all invested in curriculum teaching.

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