Learning normally comes from questions we ask about the world around us. Also, with computers getting better and better at giving answers, we need people who know how to ask good questions. However, most students are only able to ask basic or even obvious questions, even when the answers are right in front of them.
Now, more than ever, we need all the good questions we can ask to solve our society’s complex problems and build a better future for all.
We, teachers, are the front line in building this future. If we want to become a society that believes in education as a fundamental element of progress and innovation, we need to cultivate and recognize that questioning minds are its most valuable asset. But if our students are not able to ask good questions, what will become of our future?
That the school has changed very little since the 19th century is no secret. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons these days is because schools have their “clients” guaranteed. If students, even dissatisfied, continue to show up at the door, why should the school change?
Basic education provided us, for the first time in history, with a literate population. However, the pandemic was a fatal blow to the educational system; Despite the students’ social issues, school dropout increased dramatically during the two years of the pandemic, especially in higher education, which is evidence of how school, in the current format, is not seen as a priority or an asset for students.
We can see this in the report “Schools of the Future: Defining New Models of Education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution” of the World Economic Forum (2020), which highlighted that “many education systems still rely heavily on passive forms of learning focused on instruction and memorization, rather than interactive methods that foster the critical and individual thinking needed in today’s innovation-driven economy”.
But with the pandemic came important lessons, especially for Education. According to UNESCO (2020), the educational response to COVID-19 must “prioritize collaboration and work in partnerships; encourage multisectoral collaboration (education, health, social and community, among others); facilitate peer learning (which includes sharing experiences, information, challenges, ideas, solutions and lessons learned); and strengthen communities of practice for teachers”.
Based on an analysis by McKinsey & Company (2022), some of these lessons are closely linked to Education, such as:
- Schools are the true fulcrum for the functioning of society. Many of the solutions adopted, although necessary, proved to be ineffective and put “a generation of children at risk”. Therefore, we need it to be always up to date to prepare students for the future. What should the role of the school be in building the future and what can we learn from the “lessons learned” from the pandemic?
- Work will never be the same. Many of the beliefs we took for granted about what was essential at work were challenged. Furthermore, it has become clear that the kind of workforce we need is profoundly different now. But does the current school understand what this future will be like since it needs to prepare students for it? How do our current educational practices really help in this process?
- Government policy matters—but individual behavior sometimes matters more. We cannot simply depend on decisions from above. We need to work together, listening to both government and teachers who are on the “front line”. What can we do, with what we have now and considering what is possible, to start supporting the students to prepare for the future?
With that in mind, we have three challenges and questions that are urgent to answer and to (re)think about the future of Education and, consequently, the role of the teacher in that future.
1 – Less focus on outcomes and more focus on process
An education focused on outcomes leads to an excessive concern with the usefulness of things. In other words, we limit students to the thought that “if I don’t know how this can be useful for me now, I don’t need to know”. However, real learning is in the process, and the outcome does not always matter that much.
In this logic, it is necessary to rethink the role of education; it’s not about what we teach, it’s about what the student “decides” to learn. For teachers, who are normally aware of the importance of the process, certain themes and approaches may seem more relevant. But are these themes and approaches relevant to the student?
Thus, the role of the teacher is changing. Today, this role is more linked to helping the student in his/her own discovery and learning process. By encouraging curiosity to explore new perspectives, learning becomes meaningful as it makes sense to the learner. That is, giving freedom to the student to make important decisions and feel responsible for them.
Question: How to decentralize learning and invite everyone to be part of the process?
“The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.” – Alexandra Trenfor
2 – Less focus on the individual and more focus on the collective
Social and emotional skills are listed among the professional needs for the future. In addition to the ability to “learn how to learn”, collaboration and teamwork will also be indispensable.
However, we don’t see many of these skills being taught in school; we force students to be individualistic by penalizing those who speak, those who help their peers, and those who ask questions. And worse: we want these same students to think about the common good and be good citizens of our society.
Competition, if promoted in a healthy way, can favor teamwork, and even facilitate the understanding of various topics worked in the classroom. For this, it is essential that education addresses the reality that students are living and experiencing.
Creating spaces for sharing and learning does not depend on a structure, pre-organization, or even the figure of a teacher, as we are used to. Everyone has something to teach and something to learn. If we teachers can also learn from our students, why not give them the opportunity to teach?
Question: How can we create a common space where everyone can develop their creative potential?
“I don’t want you to think like me,
I just want you to think.”
– Frida Khalo
3 – Less focus on the now (short term) and more focus on the future (long term)
If education is one of the pillars of any society, we will increasingly depend on decentralized and shared knowledge, built by many hands. Also, today’s truths may not be tomorrow’s truths. So, we need to be careful with the ideas we fill into students’ heads because they can get frustrated later.
For example, Millennials – a whole generation that has just finished higher education and joined the workforce – are considered a mostly depressed and bankrupt generation, which earned the nickname of “the burnout generation”. If the school prepares students for the future, why did an entire generation have such a tragic fate?
Another point to pay attention to is that we do not have to prepare students for the “next school stage”, but for “the outside world”. Many of today’s idols are a school or college dropouts – such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Rihanna, Mark Zukerberg, Ryan Gosling, Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jack Dorsey, to name a few. Isn’t it more interesting to understand students’ needs so that the school can help them pursue their dreams?
Also, many of the things we teach students won’t really be assimilated by them until a few years from now. Thus, there is no way to measure learning with tools that focus only on the immediate (more specifically on memorization models). When will we finally understand that education goes far beyond the classroom, and find a middle ground for the student to be interested in learning?
Question: How can we turn an uncertain future into a “what if…” future?
“Education is not the filling of a pail,
but the lighting of a fire.”
– W.B. Yeats