If anybody could be called the “Grand Poobah” of global education, it’s Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD).
In February, I wrote an open letter to Andreas with an existential concern that had been troubling me and an invitation to discuss it on the Future Learning Design podcast.
Unlike many, I am lucky that my children have been in school physically quite a lot throughout the pandemic. However, on a daily basis, I watch as they are meticulously and lovingly prepared by committed teachers for a world that no longer exists.
As Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven summed it up in 2016: “[T]he only thing that can help people accept that their job may disappear is the confidence that they have the knowledge and skills to find or create a new one.”
Children growing up now will be compelled to create their own ‘value’ by transforming any needs that they observe, with the help of their peers and networks, into viable opportunities for impact and income. This is what creating prosperity in a networked economy and society will look like — it already does!
A few years ago, I too was thrust into this entrepreneurial world full of complex collaboration — make or break! And there was little or nothing that I had learned in my formal education up to the Master’s level that helped me with this.
At the same time, as the global mental health statistics demonstrate, there is also a dark side to influential networks. We need to do better at preparing our young people with the resilience for navigating this.
So the question I put to Andreas was:
How does a relentlessly hierarchical education system support our children to experience, understand, and intentionally harness the power of networks for good and find their confident place in them, without becoming overwhelmed and submerged by them?
Happily, this question piqued his interest and that of the team at the OECD. And here’s an excerpt from our conversation:
The future society is the network society. Now I think we build lateral rather than vertical kind of relationships. I think the future is not ‘command and control’ but about collaboration and I actually believe that has a lot to do with how we educate young people.
Now, do we create awareness for other ways of thinking, other ways of working? Do we see value in plurality and multiple perspectives? And I think that’s, for me, very important and in a school, you know, I actually think authority is very important. But a teacher should derive his or her role through the authority of their knowledge, of their wisdom, not through the institutional mechanisms that the school provides. And that’s why I think co-creation is actually a very powerful concept — strengthening both students and teachers in the instructional process. And that’s something that, you know, if you go back to Confucian education, no teacher had authority through any formal position in a hierarchy. They had that authority through, you know, “I’ve studied longer.”
And I think we have created an industrial structure out of this where you, by definition, by your role, by your status, get certain privileges and I don’t think that that’s a very sustainable way of working in the society in which we live. We have seen that already in the business sector, you know, the future is flat collegial not hierarchical. And education hasn’t done well with this. We still have very old-fashioned ways of accrediting knowledge; we don’t value people for what they actually know and can do, but for how they have acquired certain skills, what program they have administered. And I think we’re probably not doing enough to prepare young people well for their future. We prepare them still for our past. In the industrial age, you know, that was the perfect way of educating people because education was about sorting people. Education was about making people compatible with these kinds of hierarchical ways of working. And I think that that’s something that we will need to revisit.
I think it’s going to make the teachers’ role much more challenging, but also so much more interesting! You know, I think actually the future teacher role, if you are not just an instructor, but you are also a good coach, a good mentor, I think you will actually have a much more rewarding role. If your role is really to develop human beings rather than just to transmit the specific piece of a subject. I think the role for teachers will be far more rewarding and, not to speak of, more effective.Andreas Schleicher
Tim Logan: Absolutely. I would agree. And I think we do need to do a lot more with that and sometimes we imagine that children aren’t ready for that kind of approach. And there are people who claim that there is strong evidence that children need more things broken down for them and “instructed” and, you know, that idea of co-creation is a complex process that can be quite, let’s say, cognitively overwhelming.
Yes but think about if you have a three-year-old daughter, you know, they’re actually very co-creative. They are not listening to any hierarchy and authority. They’re actually trying out everything. They’re putting in question, whatever you do, whatever you say, you know, they want to find it out their own way.
They are the most creative people that we have. So actually, we are born with that capacity for co-creation, that capacity not to reproduce other people’s wisdom but to create our own ways of thinking. And I think we should just do a better job in school to maintain some of that energy.
Because once again, in the age of artificial intelligence, that’s what makes us human. That’s how we will be complimentary to all the artificial intelligence that we created in our computers, not substituted. So I actually do think that it is an innate human ability, so we just need to nourish it better.Andreas Schleicher
Listen to the rest of the interview here or on the Future Learning Design podcast.