It's estimated that in the next 30 years more people will receive a formal education than in all of human history to date. But will our teaching methods allow us to compete on the world stage?
Future careers will require a diverse range of skills and knowledge. Those who survive and succeed in the workplace of the future will have to:
- Be flexible and adapt quickly,
- Constantly try new things and learn new skills,
- Gain specialist knowledge in more than one area of work so they aren't caught unprepared by seismic shifts in the economy or workforce,
- Avoid being considered "fungible" (able to be replaced by another person without much if any impact on work output).
Is our school education system ready to meet one of the key objectives of the Australian Education Act 2013?
"It is essential that the Australian schooling system be of a high quality and be highly equitable in order for young Australians to become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens. A high quality and highly equitable Australian schooling system will also create a highly skilled, successful and inclusive workforce, strengthen the economy, and increase productivity, leading to greater prosperity for all".
“Is our children learning?”
Those who followed the political career of former US President George W. Bush will be familiar with two of his famous gaffe quotes about the US education system:
"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"
"Childrens do learn, when standards are high and results are measured."
While former US President George W. Bush often failed to express himself well, his question and statement above are worth considering.
Are Australian children learning the skills they will need to survive in the workplace and society of the future by participating in an education system that pressures teachers to guide their students to jump through the hurdles of national tests rather than learning how to survive and thrive in the real world?
These tests accurately measure the ability to memorise, fit into the system and handle stress. However they don’t measure many characteristics which can be predictive of future success when in an uncertain situation eg: critical thinking, creativity, curiosity and whether a person is capable of effective self-learning.
“High ranking” schools
The intense competition to gain entry into schools perceived as “high ranking” has resulted in many children spending countless hours during their weekends at coaching colleges aiming to outwit admissions tests.
The lemming-like thinking by parents doesn’t pause to consider whether the schools have achieved this high ranking because of intrinsic qualities or because of a self-fulfilling prophecy since so many of the smartest children enrol into the school in the first place because it’s seen to be high ranking.
It’s quite possible that if the best students weren’t siphoned off to selective and private high schools that they would instead compete with the local cohort of smart children and together perform well at a local public high school perceived to be “lower ranked”.
The perils of “mass production” uniform learning
I still clearly remember the gist of one of the golden age science fiction stories I read during my youth.
It was set in a future where knowledge was automatically transmitted into children at set ages. The protagonist thought he wasn’t as smart as the other children because he was in the small minority who couldn’t absorb information through this method and had to learn over time using old fashioned studying techniques.
Later on in life he discovered that his society had become so dependent on mass machine driven rote learning that few people were capable of independent thought or teaching others like he was. Whether students got the best jobs and succeeded in life depended on if they could afford the expensive new rote learning modules or just the cheaper outdated versions.
I hope this is not an accurate foretelling of our future.
Neerav Bhatt is a Polymath: UNSW Engineering IT staffer, Freelance Journalist, Photographer, Librarian, Environmentalist, Professionally Curious, Lifelong Learner.