Sunday, December 12, 2010

The future ain't what it used to be

This week's OECD report about the state of education in 65 countries has sparked thousands of articles debating why South Korea, Finland and Singapore are top of the rankings and why everyone else isn't. It's time for the never-ending discussion about how to reinvent our school system to be more in tune with the challenges of the 21st century. I agree that there is a lot that can be done and there are plenty of examples of innovative approaches to be inspired by if the responsible authorities care to look. For an analysis of the practice of producing educational league tables see Tony Bates' article Interpreting international comparisons in academic achievement.

Dreaming of the future... by Temari 09, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  Temari 09 

However, I got a fascinating link from a Twitter contact pointing me to an article that's nearly as old as I am, from 1960, Education for the community of 1985 by Leonard S Kenworthy. His vision of the school of the future is actually not so far from what many are expressing today and one quote in particular sounds very familiar:

"Scarcely any of our schools in the United States have wrestled realistically with the curriculum changes which such trends suggest ( ie greater international understanding, cross-cultural awareness, importance of science and technology). Most schools are still satisfied with their existing curricula, which were designed for an 18th or 19th century rather than a 20th or 21st century world."

The main focus of the article is internationalisation and the need to understand other cultures and viewpoints. To improve this the author suggests a greater focus on foreign language teaching in schools and colleges as well as encouraging study vists and exchange schemes with other countries. One particularly attractive idea is that foriegn students could be invited to local schools to talk about their homelands. Now that would still be a novel approach to internationalisation that very few schools have tried. The same goes for getting older people involved in schools. Think of the gold mine of memories the neighbourhood's elderly possess.

Even if the net allows us to communicate with pupils and students from just about any country in the world for free we're still discussing how to open up the classroom. Another of Kenworthy's visions is still unfulfilled:

"But I hope that in the next few years schools will begin to develop 'affiliations' with schools in other parts of the world so that every child will have had some continuing experience with pupils in at least three or four parts of the world."

It's a classic lesson in the principle that history repeats itself. In 1960the idea of opening up the classroom to the world was a challenge since contacts were mostly by post in the form of pen friends but today there simply is no excuse. The world is out there, just open the door.

"In conclusion, stress in the past has been upon the child-centered school and upon the community-centred school. Neither of these needs to be discarded. But our schools in the years ahead need to add a new dimension - the world-centered school."

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