Monday, 25 July 2016

The future of our education

There is a lot of talk about the future of work, and therefore of how appropriate our current education model is as our mechanism for preparing young people for that future. I recently had the privilege of attending an address by Young Zhao, a Chinese American education 'futurist'.

His comments were thought provoking and affirming.

Let's start by thinking about the future of work. Many jobs as we know them are fast disappearing, often replaced by technological solutions that were the stuff of science fiction writers 100 years ago.
Jobs that we assumed were traditionally available are less so. These trucks pictured working in the mining industry in western Australia are driverless.

Driverless trucks
This block layer can build a house in two days. It is a robot.

Production and productivity increase while employment declines, all the impact of technology. Look at these figures for the USA (Courtesy Young Zhao).

Yong Zhao's argument is that we have traditionally operated an education system that has been designed to remove difference, to stifle creativity in order to create homogeneous workers for an economy of massed production and industrialisation. Technological change, and it's impact on that demand for industrial workers, now means that we in fact need to enhance diversity, to create more lateral thinkers. We need more divergence in talent and people, we need to foster and nurture creativity and talent. More than this we need to nurture entrepreneurship, we ned enterprising people who are capable of looking at the world's problems in new ways in order to come up wiht new solutions.

Zhao has written a comprehensive blog post titled "A World at Risk: An Imperative for a Paradigm Shift to Cultivate 21st Century Learners[1]". His recommendations are worth quoting in full:

In light of the urgent need for improvement, both immediate and long term, I propose a set of recommendations that policy makers and educators can begin to act on now, that can be implemented over the next several years, and that promise educational excellence for the new age.
  • Stop prescribing and imposing on children a narrow set of content through common curriculum standards and testing.
  • Start personalizing education to support the development of unique, creative, and entrepreneurial talents.
  • Stop fixing solely the teaching force by selecting, training, and retaining better teacher candidates. It takes too long and we cannot wait.
  • Start empowering the children by liberating their potentials, capitalizing on their passion, and supporting their pursuits. Start giving the ownership of learning to the children.
  • Stop constraining children to learning opportunities present in their immediate physical environments by assigning them to classes and teachers.
  • Start engaging them in learning opportunities that exist in the global community, beyond their class and school walls.
  • Stop forcing children to learn what adults think they may need and testing them to what degree they have mastered the required content.
  • Start allowing children the opportunity to engage in creating authentic products and learn what they are interested in, just in time, not just in case.
  • Stop benchmarking to measures of excellence in the past, such as international test scores.
  • Start inventing the excellence of the future. You cannot fix the horse wagon to get the moon. We have to work on rocket science."

Hornby High School is re-creating itself as we re-imagine our own future, a future that promotes and develops the diversity and talent that our community and students all possess. Much of Zhao's commentary and recommendations ring true for us, as it should.

My thanks to Garth Wynn, Executive Principal of Christ;'s College who was instrumental in getting Yong Zhao to talk in Christchurch, and for making the address open to the wider educational community.


  1. I enjoyed your blog Robin and it provided affirmation for what we are trying to achieve at HPS also. I was taken by Zhao's comments on personalised learning and critical and creative thinking. We are very fortunate to have the NZC with its emphasis on the key competencies and principles, much of which Zhao is promoting.

  2. I don't think many teachers understand how visionary the NZC is and how it gives us scope to be innovative, creative and flexible in designing a curriculum that meets the needs of each of our own schools. An Australian colleague was green with envy when comparing the complex, prescriptive document she was required to "teach to". The front end of the curriculum gives us such clear direction for the future.