Is there a cure?
Stephen Cox has been reflecting on the state of world education, using Covid-19 as a metaphor for outdated systems that need to be changed.
Before joining education, I worked in the healthcare industry in the UK for nearly 10 years. During the COVID-19 crisis, I have particularly admired my former colleagues from afar as they enter the frontline, putting others’ lives first before their own. This has left me humbled, working in my current profession in education.
Over the last few months, the ability to communicate, collaborate remotely, and work in uncertainty have become more important. The skills and attributes of grit, perseverance, resilience and leadership have come to the forefront at this time. These competencies are what we want to instil in young people and right now and adults need them more than ever. We all have to continue to developing these emotional and well-being skills as we enter an uncertain future.
This is equally important in education too. What is interesting, is what we deemed to be the most important factors in education has taken a back seat or even ceased to matter at this time. Examinations, for example, and the importance of ‘getting that grade’ for the best possible opportunity at the next level of education or university entry has even fewer guarantees now.
I hope this experience enables parents, educators, investors and governments to rethink how learning should take place, especially with the advent of new technologies. If used in the right way for personalization, technology will enhance learning and move us forwards, but unfortunately, it will still not get rid of poor teaching.
The pandemic as a metaphor for education
Using the COVID-19 crisis as a metaphor might be useful in order to explain what is wrong with world education systems. Don’t get me wrong: the pandemic has had terrible outcomes, but there are similarities between what we are dealing with now and our global education environment. Let us take the COVID-19 virus itself which is causing this pandemic. This equates to our outdated education systems across the world which are not meeting the needs of young people. This is where our education pandemic lies. We are now trying to find a cure with a vaccine and, in the meantime, adopt preventative measures and treatments to slow down the spread of the disease and its devastating effects.
With our broken education system, our ‘virus’, we are finding treatments or preventative measures to stop it from spreading, which will lead to poor learning outcomes if left alone. Good or outstanding schools, governments or whole countries (Finland is a good example of this) put in place treatments and intervention strategies, pedagogical processes, teacher training, curriculum adaptations and endless other initiatives which ‘treat’ or prevent the broken education system from spreading its ‘virus’. These individual ‘treatments’ and ‘preventative measures’ lead to excellent outcomes for many young people. However, they do not constitute a global ‘cure’ to the problem and consequently, less personalization leads to many students not reaching their potential. Many students develop learning disorders, lack purpose, get bored, and don’t go on to thrive. As I mentioned, coming from a medical background, some students go on to develop a condition that I have termed ‘learning-paenia’- the deficiency of learning.
As with COVID-19, those countries, governments, schools, institutions or dedicated educators who develop the best ‘preventative’ measures and ‘treatments’ have better outcomes, and we see a mixed picture of the pandemic of education across the world and in communities.
Rethinking and risk taking
So, is it time to stop taking risks? Of course, when it comes to COVID-19, yes, for our safety and well-being, let us listen to what the science and medical profession tells us. In terms of education, no, let us try some new ideas and encourage risk-taking which can bring about more purposeful learning inside and more outside the classroom.
Schools, parents and teachers have all had to take risks setting up new ways of learning and in some cases that may have paid off and in others it may have been less effective. What I do hope, going forward, is that we do not stop trying new ways of learning because of the limitations of our current education system. We need to re-think the changes we need to put in place now for us all to grow and thrive at this challenging time.
Is there a global cure for poor education?
What about a cure or a vaccine for our education pandemic? What can we do to stop this spread of learning-paenia. Of course, education is complicated and there is no single injection or ‘vaccine’ that will cure the education pandemic now or in the future, but I believe there are changes now we need to consider at a country, government or even a school level.
Firstly, we need to fix our education system today and provide new curriculum and systems that meet the needs of young people. One that is future-ready, does not require initiative overload to ‘treat it’ and shapes the future for lifelong learners. Secondly, we need to improve the blend and communication between schools and universities.
We need to look at alternative pathways which are not heavily reliant on grades and knowledge but draw upon various sources of evidence that evaluate the whole student which puts wellbeing and happiness at the heart of decision-making. Of course, subject knowledge is important and there is a place for it in education and careers, but we need to focus on the skills and competences that all of us need right now and even more so in the future.
Technology as the enabler
And what about the technology you may ask? Technology will be the enabler and activator of these changes, which will enable new education systems and curriculum to develop cost-effective quality affordable solutions that focus on developing people and eradicate the education pandemic. Just like the ongoing pandemic, it is the people that matter right now. It is the people that are at the heart of transformation in education, and we will continue to need dedicated educators now and, in the future, who are willing to take risks to lead these new changes, and help find the cure for the education pandemic we live in.
I am optimistic.
Stephen Cox has worked at Senior Leadership and Board level for over 20 years in government and private educational sectors in the MENA region, Finland and internationally.
He is the Chief Education officer of the New Nordic School.