It seems as if there are plenty of people in the world who believe that education is “broken”. I totally disagree with this statement, and believe that there are plenty of excellent schools, students and teachers doing great things. However, I still believe there is a real need to revolutionise education, not because we are broken, but because we can be so much better than we are. A call to arms is easy, much easier, in fact, than deciding what we want  our goal should be. The question of “what should education be?” has limitless answers. What I hope to achieve here is to outline a brief answer of my own, primarily as a means to organise my developing thoughts whilst engaging other educators in discussion.

I firmly believe that if we want to revolutionise education we need to start at the end point and work back. Today’s end point is generally a set of exams which test students on a limited set of content in limiting and limited conditions. I believe in the usefulness of external exams as a means to fairly assess talent, but can’t get away from the fact that they need to be reworked to mimic ways of working in the real world. Really useful exams need to include the following elements:

  • Skills – Test skills, not content. This is not to say that content is not important, simply that in a connected and content saturated world what you can do is much more powerful than what you can do. Content will always be at the heart of knowledge, but we no longer need to focus on internalising content as much as we do on harnessing its power.
  • Ways of Working – Allow students to work in a variety of ways, such as individually and collaboratively, online and offline, open and closed.
  • Real – Ask students to solve authentic, relevant and contemporary issues which students might actually have an interest in. Isn’t this what we want our students to be doing in the real world? Isn’t this where they can be most useful to humanity, the planet, themselves and their communities?

With such an end point to education, we can free teachers from the arbitrary and artificial constraints of teaching content as discreet silos of information, and move to a system of skill acquisition. We can move from a system where students are forced to student content that does not interest them, to one where they can chose the content that allows them to learn the required skills. So, what might these essential skills for the modern world be? A start that seems logical (to me) is, in no particular order, with no particular form:

  • Open creativity (explicitly building on the work of others, output in variety of media inc. writing)
  • Close creativity (creating new ideas ourselves, output in variety of media inc. writing)
  • Working independently
  • Working collaboratively
  • Reflecting
  • Analysing
  • Consuming and comprehending media (would include traditional writing comprehension, but could be so much more)
  • Numeracy
  • Using the scientific method
  • Empathy
  • Compassion
  • Taking action
  • Creating working solutions
  • Working physically (sports, labouring, traditional crafts, cooking)
  • EQ/Balance (meditiation, looking inward, yoga)
  • Discipline (self and imposed)
  • Passion

Of course, this shift would require a whole new approach to teaching and learning, offering a great chance to excise ideas long past their use by date, and introduce some fresh thinking. One possible way to structure school (suggested by my bus buddy Wayne) would be to have an intense cross-curricular core extended by electives to achieve skill learning while pushing students to pursue their interests. The core could be delivered in the morning in large lectures (with floating teachers for support), with a focus on required content, while the electives would be based on smaller groups with focus on skills and application. Ideally, the core would involve strong discipline in order to get the maximum value out of the minimum time, freeing up as much elective time to allow students to be more expressive and free. Students would study across year groups, breaking down many artificial barriers we have erected.

With this triumvirate of exam reform, skill focus and restructured schools, we could make education far more meaningful and enjoyable for all, without (I believe) ramping up costs. And who doesn’t want that?

I would love to work with teachers from around the world to build this into a working framework for education, raise some capital and who knows, maybe start a school some day. Anyone in?

Some Caveats & Notes

  • #edrevolution if you want to build up some Twitter discussions. Comment here too!
  • I am a secondary/high school teacher, so much of this might be more relevant to secondary than to primary.
  • These ideas are my own, except where noted, but my wife always helps me think, so I owe her credit. I am sure there is plenty of overlap with the writing and thinking of others, so I don’t claim these to be original in the sense of “first written” but they are my own in terms of “not taken directly from x”. Obviously I am constantly influenced by the background noise of the educational world.
  • I am indebted to the amazing stream of educational ideas that coming flooding from my Twitter-based PLN, where I hide under the moniker @rossdotparker. In particular @robheinrichs tweet on the words of Parker Palmer “Not teacher centered, not child centered, but learning centered” really go me thinking. Thanks also to @intrepidteacher for encouraging me to post early and build from comments.
  • Thanks to slinky2000 on Flickr for the image Bulb vs Hammer.