Why we need a fresh view on ‘future-focused’ education

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 “Education… is a process of living, not a preparation for future living.” — Dewey, 1875

I want to talk about what we frame our intentions — our purpose — when we talk about ‘future focus’ and ‘innovation’.

I want us to consider how central motivations for educational change have been conflated with technological and economic advancement.

I want us to think about why we are told to reach for ‘disruption’ and ‘change’ in the face of a world that is fast-evolving and increasingly inequitable.

I want us to question deeply the source of these ideas.

Since I have been back in school, I have been feeling increasingly concerned about such messaging, and the economic/political lobbying that appears to dominate progressive educational discourse. I have been reading pieces such as:

I have been revisiting the principles of Paulo Freire and bell hooks, and talking through thinking with colleagues and friends.

And the viewpoint that is emerging is this: we know that global systems appear to be evolving (worsening?) in ways that are more complex and harder to comprehend than before. The ‘future’ of automated work and disenfranchisement of social groups is, in fact, already here. The rise of technology is happening now and central to educational policy (think NZ’s Digital Future 2017 manifesto and the swift introduction of computer science to the curriculum). It seems pretty clear that coding won’t save every young person and it’s tough for schools to focus on buying 3D printers when some of their students can’t afford lunch.

This argument — that education must pivot fast to serve these economic masters if young people want to work in the future — is both a false dichotomy and a bleak vision for change. In effect, it simply replaces one industrial model from the 20th Century with a new, shinier one from the 21st. It’s hard to motivate schools from this position. It puts economic promises and profit in the driving seat of curriculum design. And it ignores the fact that, if we are honest, we don’t need to ‘buy into’ new initiatives because we already have the tools to make the kind of change that matters most to people.

Looking for the bright spots

Instead, let’s look optimistically for those bright spots that might hold our young people, our teachers and our communities steady as society, now profoundly impacted by dominant political influences, becomes increasingly inequitable.

Let’s ask ourselves: What do we already know about those things that will still be important even as jobs continue to disappear, when mental health concerns continue to rise, when we become increasingly focused on lives lived online? What will matter?

Our connections to each other. Our sense of belonging. Being with people who believe we are worthwhile. A healthy body and mind. Feeling like we can make a small difference. Those schools who are focusing on being a stable anchor for their young people and their families have, I think, the right ‘future focused’ idea. Schools which are “a form of community life” (Dewey, 1897), which provide young people with the opportunity to learn how to make a difference, to participate, to care, these schools will be vital — check out Wellington High’s campaign for a women’s homeless shelter, for example. These schools — community hubs — also provide students with access to healthcare, legal advice, financial advice, legitimate pathways to various trades as well as university and so on.

I don’t think binary arguments are helpful in education – I understand that young people need access to healthcare AND access to the technology that now drives much of our economy.

But what we privilege when we talk about ‘change’ and ‘innovation’ needs a closer look.

I’m keen to talk with other educators who want to reframe the ‘future focused’ messaging in this way. Let’s reconsider those trends (and you know what they are….MLEs, ILEs, STEM, coding, blockchain etc etc) in ways that position them in relation to wellbeing for the community and inclusive access.

I’m looking forward to exploring this at a local level with the Wellington Loop in October.


 

Image source: Suzie Sparkle — ‘KoolAid’ (Used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

88x31‘Why we need a fresh view on ‘future-focused’ education’ by Karen Spencer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

10 thoughts on “Why we need a fresh view on ‘future-focused’ education

  1. Simply wonderful, Karen. It isn’t digital tech or design thinking or MLE or ILE or any other future focussed pedagogical approach that will make a difference to some pretty dire problems already here or that are heading our way. It is people (young, old, teachers, students) who can be empowered and be proactive to uplift their communities when they see a need. He aha te mea nui o te ao?

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  2. i LOVE THIS BIT ABOUT WHATS REALLY IMPORTANT IN EDUCATION, LIFE AND LEARNING

    “Our connections to each other. Our sense of belonging. Being with people who believe we are worthwhile. A healthy body and mind. Feeling like we can make a small difference. Those schools who are focusing on being a stable anchor for their young people and their families have, I think, the right ‘future focused’ idea. Schools which are “a form of community life” (Dewey, 1897), which provide young people with the opportunity to learn how to make a difference, to participate, to care, these schools will be vital — check out Wellington High’s campaign for a women’s homeless shelter, for example. These schools — community hubs — also provide students with access to healthcare, legal advice, financial advice, legitimate pathways to various trades as well as university and so on.

    I don’t think binary arguments are helpful in education – I understand that young people need access to healthcare AND access to the technology that now drives much of our economy.” Karen Spencer 2017

    I think the key is to replace the narrative that politics, polity and politicians tell in their zero sum game of bickering with a nw story of love, kinfdness , compassion and mercy is essential to our life, our kids and their kids lives and to the salvation and success of the planet let alone humans.

    I think we need to ditch assessment, testing and other academic rites of passage with more meaningful ways of transitioning and provisioning people from preschool to adulthood to mentoring others. I think teh image is accurate if its the KoOol Aid Acid test but a little worrtying if its the Grapes of Jonestown flavors

    I think the whole neoliberal enterprise of teh last 30 – 40 – 50 years is BS and bad for us our species and our planeta nd we only ahve one of each aso we all betetr look after each other – i love your journey on ths path to an alternative narrative and i note the figure hunched in teh distance who looks a bit like Jeremy Corbyn or maybe its Al Gore or Bernie Sanders – hard to tell in this half light of a nuclear winter coming down – just as well i wrote teh book on how to survive it in the 80s when we were last minutes away from global conflagration

    see you in october to carry on this discussion at LoopEd or maybe it will come via uLearn17 where alas my budget does not run – yet -well done, good on you and god blesa (whereever she lies tonight)

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  3. I completely agree, Karen, and have been writing on this a lot myself recently. Let’s make sure we focus on what I have called the ‘academic value chain’ and think about how we can improve each interaction through innovation. But let’s not throw those interactions away: education is profoundly about relationships of trust. That should not change, and no amount of digital wizardry can replace it. A thoughtful piece.

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  4. I’ve been feeling a discomfort, especially since the Digital Technologies draft for consultation, but couldn’t quite articulate my thoughts/feelings. You’ve nailed it! I look forward to seeing where you go with this. Great post!

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  5. Have to agree with you entirely! There is an international focus at present, coming from the OECD about how education systems should be developed. The dilemma with the formula they use to assess systems is that it is based on the McKinsey Report (2010) – and is focused on producing a workforce, so is driven by economic ideology. Education is SO much more than preparing students for work. As you say Karen, in this world of disruption valuing relationships, developing students’ sense of culture, identity, place and language, growing empathy, inclusive ways of being and awareness of how everyone impacts on the environment for the decisions they make – these things are the essence of the type of citizen I want our country to grow. Technology is a huge disrupter and yes, it is changing our world, but I would suggest moral leadership will never be out of fashion, as it is modelling the highest aspirations we have, for ourselves, for our students, for our communities and for the world we all live in.

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  6. Feeling good about our current future focused curriculum design here at OBS. Citizenship through Sustainability, Enterprise and Globalisation.

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    1. Agree – it’s tricky because we can’t divorce the education system from the political system – but I’m keen to find a meaningful way into/through the competitive drive for results in a way that I and others feel we can justify and live with 😉 Thanks for engaging and leaving a comment!

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