Trends Shaping Education

The OECD recently published a report into Trends Shaping Education 2008.

There are some interesting trends in the 16 OECD countries although I wonder if the current global financial crisis will shift the direction or accelerate some of these in the coming years?

I’ll try to summarise some of the key points here but you will need to access the Read Only Report if you want to follow up on any of the detail. I’ve selected a few questions arising from each trend which might be of particular relevance to Scotland.

1. Ageing OECD Societies
– Fewer children – birth rates well down since the 1960’s.
– we start parenthood later
– Living longer
– Changing age structures

Implications for Education in Scotland? 

1.  What does it mean for young people coming into education to have older parents and fewer, often no brothers and sisters? How does it change the way in which they experience school life and how will schools need to respond to this profound change?

2. When we expect schooling to prepare young people for life that means something very different if the average life expectancy is 80-90 years, than 50 -60 years. Do our life long societies call for re-thinking what education should equip people with?

3. Can we continue with ever-lengthening periods of time spent by young people in initial education? Do we need more flexible, less linear models which get young people sooner out education, and, if so, what guarantees to return to education later in life are needed?

2. Global Challenges
– Our crowded planet
– International divides of affluence and poverty
– Populations on the move
– Global environmental challenges

Implications for Education in Scotland? –

1. Can the school act as a “social anchor” for populations which are experiencing isolation and exclusion?

2. Does national investment in education bringing economic returns inevitably increase global inequalities?

3. In pluralistic societies, the school comes to face an even greater range of family expectations and aspirations about what it should be doing.  How far should different demands be accommodated?

3. Towards a New Economic Landscape
– The global economy
– Knowledge-intensive service economies

Implications for Education in Scotland? –

1. Increasing competition in global markets has underpinned the idea that countries need constant innovation to maintain position.  Does education nurture the creativity necessary to be innovative?

2. Are schools equipping the young for the competitive knowledge based-based economy and society?

3. Should more emphasis be placed on “soft skills” such as caring, judgement, intuition, ethics, inspiration, friendliness, and imagination?

4. The Changing World of Work and Jobs
– Lives less dominated by work?
– Less securely attached to the labour market?
– Women at work

Implications for Education in Scotland?

1. Do shorter male working hours get translated into greater availability to engage in school life?

2. How well do schools do in preparing young people to cope with, even thrive in, uncertainty?

3. The difficulties in getting a firm foothold in the job market, and of maintaining it, suggest that education systems need to ensure that transition to working life is accepted as a major responsibility. Is this the case or is it common for schools and teachers to treat the economy as a “dirty word” not to sully education’s purity?

4. What role do schools play, through implicit messages and explicit guidance, in shaping the career and professional (as well as educational) choices of girls and boys? What are the priorities for further change in this respect?

5. The Learning Society
– Educational attainment
– Rising investments in education
– Global educational patterns – inequalities and student flows

Implications for Education in Scotland?

1. Are ever more educated parents proving to be an invaluable resource to complement the work of schools?

2. High expenditure on schooling does not translate into better results: Finland has around average expenditure but very high achievements. What can be done to spend money more effectively?

6. ICT: The Next Generation
– The digital revolution
– The expanding World Wide Web
– Towards Web 2.0?

Implications for Education in Scotland?

In what ways, if at all, should education be organised differently in recognition of the digital environment of young people?

The progress of ICT is continuously improving the possibilities for networking, distance learning and self-learning. How is this being felt by schools – as an extension of the possibilities or as a threatening alternative?

With the availability of so much information it is a frequent contention that teaching factual knowledge in schools is no longer relevant. How important is a factual basis to learning and what should be the approach to teaching skills and digesting information?

7. Citizenship and the State
– Changing forms of political participation
– The role of the welfare state – smaller government?

Implications for Education in Scotland?

1. Should schools help build the attitudes necessary for fruitful participation by giving pupils more opportunities to be heard, to participate and to collaborate in school decision making?

2. If individuals are to be expected to make decisions about health care, pensions, higher education financing, etc, which used to be the responsibility of the state, what kinds of knowledge and skills do they need to function in this environment? Do schools need to do more in this regard?

8. Social Connections and Values
– Living in more diverse families
– Less social interaction?
– Evolving values

Implications for Education in Scotland?

1. Is the predominance of women teachers, especially at pre-school and primary level combined with growing single parenthood creating a long term imbalance with many children having no male role models?

2. If trust and social engagement are low where does this leave schools?

3. Effective education relies upon good home-school relations. Does the growing diversity of family situations affect the nature of these relations?

9. Sustainable Affluence?
– Growing affluence, growing energy consumption
– Inequality on the rise
– Lifestyles with health risks

Implications for Education in Scotland?

1. How well do young people balance their lives as learners in school and their lives as consumers? Consumption often offers immediate satisfaction; how does increased consumerism affect learning, as the benefits of learning are not immediate but lie further in the future?

2. Are attitudes to schooling changing with greater affluence? Do people regard it more as a consumer good than as a public service than in the past?

3. Is inequality and inevitable part of society? How do we balance the equity with the legitimate rights of parents to choose what’s best for their child?

4. Is the balance of the curriculum right in ensuring the physical and emotional development of students as well as the cognitive?

 

5 thoughts on “Trends Shaping Education

  1. There are many interesting points and insightful local parallels here, Don. I’m presuming that the question format was a prompt to response as opposed simply to a dynamic narrative device. The only way to avoid confusion seemed to be to quote the questions addressed. Sorry for the inordinate length.

    Ageing OECD Societies

    1. What does it mean for young people coming into education to have older parents and fewer, often no brothers and sisters? How does it change the way in which they experience school life and how will schools need to respond to this profound change?

    Older parents – perhaps less energy but more experience and judgement. Given the rapid pace of change in education, it might it be a good thing for people to have their own experience far behind them when discussing their children’s – particularly if their personal experience was negative.

    2. When we expect schooling to prepare young people for life that means something very different if the average life expectancy is 80-90 years, than 50 -60 years. Do our life long societies call for re-thinking what education should equip people with?

    Is it within the gift education to predict and prepare people for the eventualities of a 60-70 year period?

    Global Challenges

    2. Does national investment in education bringing economic returns inevitably increase global inequalities?

    If we turn this question on its head and ask “does inability fully to invest in education increase global inequality? – then the answer seems more clearly like “yes.”

    3. In pluralistic societies, the school comes to face an even greater range of family expectations and aspirations about what it should be doing. How far should different demands be accommodated

    This is a tricky one. Is it possible to meet the demands of people with diametrically opposed viewpoints on a given issue?

    Towards a New Economic Landscape

    1. Increasing competition in global markets has underpinned the idea that countries need constant innovation to maintain position. Does education nurture the creativity necessary to be innovative?

    I can’t help feeling here that size and creativity operate in inverse proportion. Asked to cite an example of creative countries, I suspect that people would name a small country – like our own, Holland, Finland etc. Are some schools/authorities simply too large and lumbering truly to be creative. It’s difficult convincingly to nurture something that you can’t already do.

    3. Should more emphasis be placed on “soft skills” such as caring, judgement, intuition, ethics, inspiration, friendliness, and imagination?

    This may seem like a piece of ivory tower, linguistic distraction, but I’m always struck by the inappropriateness of the term “soft skills.” I know it means “soft” as opposed to “rigid and unyielding” but it certainly should not be confused with “soft” as opposed “hard – in the sense of difficult.” The attributes you list are extremely difficult because of the limitless, changing situations in which they are required. Not only that but their very nature makes them difficult to pass on – other than by example.

    The Changing World of Work and Jobs

    1. Do shorter male working hours get translated into greater availability to engage in school life?

    In an ideal world, yes.

    2. How well do schools do in preparing young people to cope with, even thrive in, uncertainty?

    Teachers seem to need to appear certain and oanised. This surely mitigates against regarding a culture of uncertainty in any positive sense.

    3. The difficulties in getting a firm foothold in the job market, and of maintaining it, suggest that education systems need to ensure that transition to working life is accepted as a major responsibility. Is this the case or is it common for schools and teachers to treat the economy as a “dirty word” not to sully education’s purity?

    One often hears “it’s not education’s job to do universities’ recruiting for them” and similar sentiments obtain regarding employers. Are we in any sense uncertain about “what we’re for?”

    One final point: the idea of lives, less dominated by work, resulting in an increased amount of leisure time for all never seems to work out. Rather, we tend to see an increasing underclass surviving on an income which rules out much of what most people regard as leisure. Increasingly distanced from them is a range of professions where people feel that, despite the liberation promised by technology, they are working harder than ever. The result is that many are often too tired to make the most of family life and of any restorative leisure activity requiring the input of energy. There must surely be a knock-on effect in the home-child-school triangle. Increasing job-insecurity always results in a disinclination to question this.

    The Learning Society

    1. Are ever more educated parents proving to be an invaluable resource to complement the work of schools?

    Hopefully. Thousands of them must be teachers. and some must be architects of our future.

    2. High expenditure on schooling does not translate into better results: Finland has around average expenditure but very high achievements. What can be done to spend money more effectively?

    One of the complaints I hear most frequently is that we shouldn’t spend money on glossy publications alerting council employees to what council employees do. If we truly embrace IT then there is no need for it. This is admittedly a drop in the ocean but perhaps a symptomatic one.

    ICT: The Next Generation

    In what ways, if at all, should education be organised differently in recognition of the digital environment of young people?

    As long as we’re clear that technology is enhancing as opposed to replacing content then, finance allowing, the online, investigative approach should be far more prevalent . It as, after all, the norm outside school walls. Current restrictions make a joke of this when, for example, a Music Teacher, cannot access anything featuring the terms mp3 or Youtube. It’s difficult to be visionary and creative when someone else has the keys to your toolbox.

    The progress of ICT is continuously improving the possibilities for networking, distance learning and self-learning. How is this being felt by schools – as an extension of the possibilities or as a threatening alternative?
    My personal view is that only when ICT is viewed as threatening can it assume the worrisome identity of an alternative.

    With the availability of so much information it is a frequent contention that teaching factual knowledge in schools is no longer relevant. How important is a factual basis to learning and what should be the approach to teaching skills and digesting information?

    There are many dangers in simply letting pupils loose on the net in the hope that they will come up with “the facts.” They include: the bewildering array of (sometimes contradictory) information and the aims and objectives of “the publisher.” For example would a pupil, asked to write on The Rise of Fascism, be encouraged to view the content of every site as equally valid? Is this a philosophical or political problem in that pupils are free to find “the facts” in, say, Maths & Science but are required to come up with “our facts” in, say History, Modern Studies or RME? The notion of “in loco parentis” may have a different quality in either situation.

    Citizenship and the State

    1. Should schools help build the attitudes necessary for fruitful participation by giving pupils more opportunities to be heard, to participate and to collaborate in school decision making?

    In theory, yes. My experience, however, of suggesting that pupils lobby their pupil council in an attempt to have deafening bells/alarms removed from small rooms (outside which there is a sufficiently loud one) results in resounding indifference. It seems that their belief in the inevitability of a heart-attack inducing noise at the end of the lesson outweighs their current faith in the efficacy of participative democracy.

    2. If individuals are to be expected to make decisions about health care, pensions, higher education financing, etc, which used to be the responsibility of the state, what kinds of knowledge and skills do they need to function in this environment? Do schools need to do more in this regard?

    Yes.

    Social Connections and Values

    1. Is the predominance of women teachers, especially at pre-school and primary level combined with growing single parenthood creating a long term imbalance with many children having no male role models?

    Yes.

    2. If trust and social engagement are low where does this leave schools?

    In trouble – if not crisis

    Sustainable Affluence?

    1. How well do young people balance their lives as learners in school and their lives as consumers? Consumption often offers immediate satisfaction; how does increased consumerism affect learning, as the benefits of learning are not immediate but lie further in the future?

    As in many fields a short-term, consumerist view undermines the long game.

    2. Are attitudes to schooling changing with greater affluence? Do people regard it more as a consumer good than as a public service than in the past?

    Let’s hope not.

    4. Is the balance of the curriculum right in ensuring the physical and emotional development of students as well as the cognitive?

    The physical side of things in no sense represents 33% of the three cited elements. I confess to being puzzled on this matter. Everyone seems to agree on the boundless energy of children and teenagers. Yet, many frequently complain to me of tiredness. Could it be that their lives (like many of ours) are lacking in physicality? If this is true, then aspirations for the remaining two elements are endangered.

  2. Alan

    I really appreciate your thoughts. I will be reflecting upon some of my own respopnses to these questions over the holiday period.

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