As the world of business, science and technology is changing around us, school education must follow suit. But do our schools prepare the citizens of tomorrow’s world adequately? The question is all the more pertinent now that China is taking over as a leading economy with a completely different take on education from most Western countries.
Comparing education systems has its pitfalls. One must be careful what factors are taken into account; cultural and social contexts are often disregarded and skills such as problem solving or creativity are hard to measure. Still, a recent report compiled for Pearson by the Economist Intelligence Unit has shown the UK in the top 10 and second in Europe, leaving China far behind. This is in contrast with last year’s PISA report issued by the OECD, in which China was way ahead. This can be partly explained by the fact that Pearson looked at the rate of students continuing into higher education.
If British students are more likely to go into higher education, it can be argued that the UK makes it easier to get there. Switzerland, by contrast, imposes a Maturité (its version of the Baccalaureate) that few manage to complete. Perhaps we need to look more at how education equips students to enter the world of high-level academia and careers. The British favour specialization and individual achievements over broader and standardized curricula.
Nowadays, it may not be as important to memorize facts and figures but rather to come up with innovative IT solutions for dealing with global social, political and environmental issues. Maybe the best education systems are the ones that produce the problem solvers of tomorrow, not people simply capable of repeating acquired knowledge. The skill set required to be successful is different from one generation to the next.
It is important for teachers, and especially those working behind the scenes on creating new curricula and assessment criteria, that both what is taught and how it is assessed value and incorporate the abilities needed to be successful. One day we may see oral communication rewarded at the same level as essay writing, while more assessments will be based on projects rather than just exams. Given that policies and politics on these issues tend to fluctuate, parents and students need to voice their wishes by selecting schools and curricula more adapted to delivering such training for later life.
Other than the British system, the IB curriculum, from primary to diploma, also prepares students for social and professional interactions in the technological and global societies of the future. Unfortunately, however, it does not always appear in ranking surveys as it is not attached to any particular country. The realities of today suggest that more than ever, innovation, adaptability, creativity and problem solving stand out as the new literacies!
Sabine Hutcheson, Academic Director an
d Educational Consultant at TutorsPlus