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OECD Director: "The past was interactive, the future is participative"

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

Andreas Schleicher, Director, Education and Skills, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), based in Paris

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently convened a working group in Beijing, and Teach the Future was honored to present the case for including Foresight as a 21st Century Skill to be promoted in their worldwide education standard.

The OECD Director of Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, opened the conference with these words which point to the necessity of training young people in Futures Thinking.

Vice Minister Du Zhanyuan, friends and distinguished guests,

It’s such a privilege to join the G20 education dialogue here. Education is a field where the G20 has still a lot of room to become more active.

And China is the right place to start this dialogue, China is now a leading player in the education conversation around the world. The challenges you’ve identified – the extraordinary size and breadth of your system, the need to achieve equity between cities and the countryside and your wish to ensure quality in each and every one of your schools – these are challenges that resonate around the world and make China’s voice so important.

And China’s progress in education has made everyone sit up: We saw from the last PISA assessments that the 10% most disadvantaged 15-year-olds in Shanghai outperformed the 10% most privileged American students in mathematics.

But the world is changing, and no country knows that better than China. China just adopted a new curriculum framework modelled around core competencies very similar to what we use in OECD’s Education 2030 work. But translating that into actual classroom practice is a formidable challenge everywhere.

Education used to be about teaching people something. Now, it’s about helping students develop a reliable compass and the navigation skills to find their own way through an increasingly uncertain, volatile and ambiguous world.

A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would last for the life of their students. Today, schools need to prepare students for more rapid economic and social change than ever before, for jobs that haven’t been created, to use technologies that haven’t yet been invented, and to solve social problems that we can’t yet imagine.

These days, we simply no longer know how things will unfold, often we are surprised and need to learn from the extraordinary, and sometimes we make mistakes along the way. And it will often be the mistakes and failures, when properly understood, that create the context for learning and growth. We used to learn to do the work, now learning is the work – and that hinges on a post-industrial pedagogy. It is easy to learn, but we need to become better to unlearn and relearn.

Because that’s the main differentiator today, education is becoming more about ways of thinking, involving creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and decision making; about ways of working, including communication and collaboration; about tools for working, and that includes not just the capacity to use technology but to recognise its potential for new ways of working. And education is also increasingly about the social and emotional skills that help people live and work together. Think about courage, integrity, curiosity, leadership, resilience or empathy.

But I want to go one step further. Our schools need to prepare students to live and work in a world in which most people now need to collaborate with people of diverse cultural origins, and appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values; a world in which people need to decide how to trust and collaborate across such differences, and more and more we will depend on technology to bridge space and time. We need to enable students to think for themselves and act for others, and educate the next generation who will create jobs, not seek jobs. Those are the reasons why we are putting global competency at the centre of the next PISA round.

But if we want to prepare students with more capacity for innovation, then education itself needs to become more innovative. That means we need to think harder how we design, implement, scale and spread good ideas; and to think harder how to use the people, the spaces, the time and the technology in education to prepare the next generation for their future, rather than our past.

Easy to say. Hard to do. We all know that the road to education reform is just littered with good ideas that are poorly implemented. What will it take?

The past was about delivered wisdom, the future is about user-generated wisdom. The past was divided: you had teachers and content divided by subjects and student destinations; and the past was isolated: schools were designed to keep students inside, and the rest of the world outside.

The future needs to be integrated, that means emphasising integration of subjects, integration of students and integration of learning contexts; and it needs to be connected: that means connected with real-world contexts, and also permeable to the rich resources in the community.

Instruction in the past was subject-based, instruction in the future needs to be project based.

The past was hierarchical, students were recipients and teachers the dominant resource, the future is co-created, and that means we need to recognise both students and adults as resources for the co-creation of communities, for the design of learning and for the success of students. The future also needs to be collaborative, and that means changing working norms.

In the past, different students were taught in similar ways. Now we need to embrace diversity with differentiated pedagogical practices. The past was curriculum-centered, the future is learner centered. The goals of the past were standardisation and compliance, that is, students are educated in batches of age, following the same standard curriculum, all assessed at the same time. The future is about building instruction from student passions and capacities, helping students personalise their learning and assessment in ways that foster engagement and talents.

In the past, schools were technological islands, that is technology was deployed mostly to support existing practices for efficiency gains. Future schools are empowered and use the potential of technologies to liberate learning from past conventions and connect learners in new and powerful ways. The past was interactive, the future is participative.

Finally, powerful learning environments are constantly creating synergies and finding new ways to enhance professional, social and cultural capital with others. They do that with families and communities, with higher education, with businesses, and especially with other schools and learning environments.

The challenge is that such system transformation cannot be mandated by government, which just leads to surface compliance, nor can it be built solely from the ground. Success is about building the ecosystems that bring those worlds together.

That means education policy in itself needs to become more innovative, I am glad you have put that so centrally on the agenda for this dialogue. Governments can’t do the innovations in the classroom. But they can create an innovation-friendly climate where transformative ideas can bloom at the grassroots level. And they can do that both by fostering innovation within the system as well as by creating opportunities for outside innovations to enter the system.

Governments can also help make great ideas real, to strengthen professional autonomy and a collaborative culture where great ideas are shared, refined and borrowed, and where access to funding and non-financial support lifts those ideas into action. Not least, governments can build incentives and signals that strengthen the visibility and demand for what demonstrably works.

And governments can find better ways to recognise, reward and give exposure to success, and make it easier for innovators to take risks and encourage the emergence of new actors.

All this is easy to say, hard to do. The Americans say ‘yes we can’. That’s a good start but it doesn’t mean things get actually done. The European’s say, ‘yes, we should’. That’s never enough. Again, we can learn something from the Chinese here in Beijing. They don’t say anything, they just do it.

My very best wishes for the success of your dialogue over the next two days.


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