I believe that people who are constantly on the lookout for new models of education should also look to the past at something that was started over 40 years ago. In the 1970s, the “New School” model was born in rural Colombia.
New School – Escuela Nueva in Spanish – is recognized for its innovative nature and for improving the education of millions of children around the world. Originally designed to provide cost-effective schooling to small rural schools in Colombia, it focused on cooperative learning and leadership, feedback, social interaction – all now hallmarks of so-called 21st century learning.
21st century skills
Emotions are the DNA of human experience. Social relationships play a pivotal role in helping us become fully human. Connectedness is an essential need for our species. So, we tend to assume it comes naturally and, thus, needs not to be taught in schools.
It is only recently that policymakers and organisations are paying attention and defining emotions and social skills as essential to a well-rounded education. This is mostly based on growing evidence that socio-emotional skills increase academic outcomes and well-being and employers seek those skills and will pay for them.
When I visited Peru for the first time last month for a business development trip, I met with the heads of some leading private education institutions. At the end of my visit, I decided to book a cultural tour of Lima. During the tour, I asked our guide Marcos where he learned English as I found him very articulate, knowledgeable and with a good sense of humor. To my pleasant surprise and astonishment, he told me that he learned it by himself, mainly online. He then started practicing with visiting tourists until he became more comfortable leading tours himself.
Recently, the World Bank Education Team on Sri Lanka Higher Education organized its first Facebook Live to discuss how Sri Lanka’s universities can become world class institutions where students acquire relevant skills. More than 50,000 viewers have so far viewed the video and we have received a large volume of follow up questions and comments.
It is evident that there is strong interest among Sri Lankan youth in their education system, particularly the current state and the future of higher education system, as well as their job prospects.
The questions raised by Facebook viewers spanned across issues on the need to increase access for higher education, improve quality of teaching and learning at tertiary education institutions, increase relevance of higher education, enhance skills development for employment.
Here’s a sample of questions asked and discussed:
- Learning opportunities in higher education have been significantly increased but higher education enrollment rate is well below comparator countries. How can Sri Lanka increase higher education opportunities?
- teaching-learning is still one way In majority of Sri Lanka’s higher education institutions: lecturers deliver information and students listen. How can we change our system more towards student-centered learning to get students actively involved in their learning? How can Sri Lanka strengthen its universities’ teaching-learning practices?
- What are the skills employers most want?
- How can higher education institutions help students acquire the right skills to succeed in today’s job market?
- The foundation of higher education is laid during the senior years at school. But after-school tuition classes have invaded school children’s lives. How can we ensure that teachers are doing their role effectively during school hours to prepare children for higher education?
While the team has been working on these very issues for over a decade since the preparation and implementation of the first higher education project in Sri Lanka, Improving Quality and Relevance of Undergraduate Education (2003-2010), followed by an analytical work on the sector, The Tower of Learning: Performance, Peril and Promise of Higher Education in Sri Lanka, and a follow up operation, Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century Project (2010-2016), this was an exciting opportunity to directly engage with the stakeholders through social media as the team is embarking on the next phase of engagement for the higher education sector through the preparation of Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development.
Transformation of the education system is essential to meet the economic and social challenges of a rapidly evolving and knowledge-intensive world.
Sri Lanka has a well-established system of higher education but its expansion is facing major challenges.
Bringing excellence to Sri Lanka’s higher education where students are able to acquire the relevant skills for the global market was one of the main goals of the World Bank supported Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century Project.
The Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development Project will aim to expand access to higher education with a special focus on the Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics which will increase opportunities for young people, including youth from rural and estate sector families, to access better paid jobs.
In addition, it will aim to improve the relevance and quality of priority areas of higher education and increase research, development and innovation products from universities.
The team is grateful to Facebook viewers’ active engagement through Facebook live on Sri Lanka’s higher education and looking forward to the next rounds of discussions.
Next week, UNESCO will convene the world’s educational leaders in Incheon to set the agenda for educational development over the next 15 years. Those who think that’s mainly an agenda for the developing world should read our new report Universal Basic Skills - What Countries Stand to Gain. The report shows the scale of the effort that is ahead even for many of the wealthiest nations to develop the essential skills that can transform lives, generate prosperity and promote social inclusion. And with a new global metric of the quality of learning outcomes, the report demonstrates that the world is no longer divided between rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly educated ones.
In most cases, in most places -- at least in most so-called 'developing countries' -- the use of computers and other ICTs in schools is in practice focused largely on the development of what is commonly referred to or understood as 'ICT or computer literacy'. In fact, in many low and even middle income countries, professed needs to develop 'market-relevant' things like keyboarding skills, a basic understanding of how to navigate computer GUIs and operating systems and a general facility with standard office applications inform some of the primary justifications for the roll-out of computers in schools.
In some such places (case #1), once you have become 'proficient' in using (e.g.) a word processor, the promotion of the development of 'ICT-related skills' stops. (You are now 'computer literate': Time to move along!)
In other places (case #2), there is no shortage of lofty rhetoric around the need to develop '21st century skills' through the use (in part) of ICTs, but if you look at how the equipment is actually being utilized, the reality of ICT use in case #2 is not terribly different in practice than what one sees in the first case.
That said, some people think that way basic ICT literacy is being promoted within many 'digital divide' initiatives in the education sector may over time actually impede progress toward the development of higher order ICT-related skills. This points to a phenomenon associated with the so-called 'Second Digital Divide' (related EduTech blog post), which (in the words of the OECD) "separates those with the competencies and skills to benefit from computer use from those without". For such people, a focus on developing only basic ICT literacy,
What is the profile of the type of student who we hope will emerge from our schools? Many have argued that our schools are stuck in a 19th century mindset and education for the knowledge age requires a complete rethink of teaching and learning for a globalized, connected, and rapidly changing world. Educators around the world have been debating and working to define these skills and what has emerged is a set of “21st century skills” – the types of skills deemed essential to work creatively; problem solve; communicate; identify and analyze existing information; and create new knowledge.