If students are to be smarter than their smartphones, then tests need to look beyond whether students can reproduce information to determine, instead, whether they can extrapolate from what they know, and apply their knowledge creatively to novel situations. But there is another missing piece. Examinations are where the system of instruction begins, not where it ends. The key is how standards and examinations translate into the curriculum, instructional material, and ultimately instructional practice. I have often been surprised at how little attention and resources the US devotes to developing the curriculum and instructional material and aligning it with education goals, standards, teacher development, and examinations.
Since student learning time is limited and we seem unable to give up teaching things that may no longer be relevant, young people are held prisoners of the past, and schools lose the opportunity to develop valuable knowledge, skills and character qualities that are important for students’ success in the world.
Tomorrow’s institutions will need to help students to think for themselves and join others, with empathy, in work and citizenship. They will need to help students develop a strong sense of right and wrong and sensitivity to the claims that others make. At work, at home and in the community, people will need a deep understanding of how others think, whether as scientists or artists and how others live, in different cultures and traditions. Whatever tasks machines may be taking over from humans at work, the demands on our capabilities to contribute meaningfully to social and civic life will keep rising.
Bridging the skills gap is about vision and about taking risks often without sufficient proof and research.
Our knowledge about what works in education has really improved vastly. It is true that digitalization has contributed to the rise in populism and “post-truth” societies that can work against rational policymaking. But the very same forces, whether in the form of more and better data or new statistical and analytical tools, have also massively expanded the scope and power of social research to create a more evidence-based environment which can help policy-makers lower the political cost of action, and increase the political cost of inaction.
To transform schooling at scale, we need not just a radical vision of what is possible, but also smart strategies that help make a change in education happen. The road of educational reform is littered with good ideas that were poorly implemented. The laws, regulations, structures, and institutions on which educational leaders tend to focus when changing schools are just like the small visible tip of an iceberg. The reason why it is so hard to move school systems is that there is a much larger invisible part under the waterline. This invisible part is about the interests, beliefs, motivations, and fears of the people who are involved in education, parents and teachers included. This is where unexpected collisions occur. That is why educational leaders are rarely successful with reform unless they build a shared understanding and collective ownership for change, and unless they build capacity and create the right policy climate, with accountability measures designed to encourage innovation and development rather than compliance.
The education crisis, mirrored in flat-lining educational outcomes despite rising costs is, at least in part, an education leadership crisis. Finding adequate and forward-looking responses to the interrelated changes in technology, globalization, and the environment is ultimately a question of leadership. For schools to be entrepreneurial and able to adapt, system-leaders need to be able to mobilize the human, social and financial resources needed for innovation; to work as social entrepreneurs both within and beyond their own organizations; and to build stronger linkages across sectors and countries, to establish partnerships with government leaders, social entrepreneurs, business executives, researchers and civil society. System leaders need to be strategic, that is aware of how organizational policies and practices can either facilitate or inhibit transformation and be ready to confront the system where it inhibits change. They need to be design thinkers, capable of recognizing emerging trends and patterns and see how these might benefit or obstruct the innovation they want to achieve. They need to be politically savvy, in terms of working with organizations as well as people. They need to use their knowledge about what motivates people to get them to support their plans for change, and they need to use their understanding of power and influence to build the alliances and coalitions needed to get things done.