It turns out that a country does not have to be wealthy to make significant progress in preparing its children for the future. What it does need to do, according to the Worldwide Educating For the Future Index (WEFFI) report, is shift its focus beyond measuring the memorisation of specific prescribed content towards empowering young people with the skills they need to deal with any content in any context. These are sometimes referred to as ‘future skills’ or ‘21st century skills’. Integrating these skills into an education strategy requires curricula that are agile and able to adapt to a rapidly changing world because they are focused on how we learn rather than what we learn.
The second WEFFI has been released, and Ghana (25th place) leads African countries in the delivery of effective education that prepares learners “for the demands of work and life in a rapidly changing landscape.” It beats South Africa (33rd place), even when the economic resources it can afford to put into education are so much less than the huge amounts our government invests. The report attributes the Ghanaian success to its “attention to future skills in national education strategy as well as the assessment frameworks they are building to support future-skills training” – and the quality of their teacher training.
The WEFFI index “was developed to assess the effectiveness of education systems in preparing students for the demands of work and life in a rapidly changing landscape. It focuses on the 15-24 age band in 50 economies around the world.”
You can read it here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/v2uumn221pk0vp5/WEFFI%202018.pdf?dl=0
Here are some highlights for your interest.
The WEFFI 2018 report stresses:
There is recognition among many policymakers of the need to foster leadership, entrepreneurship, creativity, communication, global awareness and civic education skills among students, as well as digital skills. But acting on that recognition is proving an enormous challenge. For example, many governments explicitly target the aforementioned skills as priority areas in their national education strategies and set milestones for progress. Far fewer have yet taken steps to adapt curriculum accordingly or develop the appropriate assessment frameworks.
Only Finland, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and Sweden score “perfect marks for the coverage and importance their national education strategy affords 21st-century skills.”
As the report puts it, “Articulating future-skills objectives in strategy is just a first step to meeting them. Supportive curriculum and assessment frameworks must also be in place. In both these areas, the index focuses not just on the scope of future skills covered but also on the extent to which the frameworks emphasise problem-based learning – an approach in which students are challenged to solve difficult problems through self-directed learning, in the process broadening their knowledge. Such frameworks are extensively developed in Finland and Switzerland, as well as in Singapore and Sweden.”
Asian policymakers now realise that the focus should not just be on hard work and cognitive skills. Students need to change from being consumers to co-creators of the system from early on. This is where 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and digital skills are gaining traction.
– Brajesh Panth, Asian Development Bank
Singapore for example “is devoting considerable attention to future-skills policy. “We recognise the downside of an over-emphasis on grades and exams, and are taking steps to dial it back,” says Ong Ye Kung, Singapore’s education minister. This includes, he says, changing the scoring system for school-leaving exams, and enabling university admissions to be determined by more than just exam grades. More broadly, governments in East Asia are realising the detrimental effects that high-stakes exams are having on children, according to Christine Min Wotipka of Stanford University. “They’re also realising that there are other prices to pay for this heavy exam focus,” she adds, such as inequality bred when not all families can afford to pay for exam courses on weekends and in evenings.”
The scores a child achieves in exams is not evidence of the quality of the education they have received. In South Africa a significant number of the learners who achieve 10 distinctions at school are failing first year at university, because their school coached them to pass an exam, and did not train them to be independent thinkers who can use critical and creative thinking skills to engage unfamiliar problems and work things out for themselves. A crucial part of this skills set is also the ability to participate in productive dialogue with others to create the best explanations and solutions possible. This equips young people to engage in non-violent conflict resolution, to participate as active citizens in democratic processes, and to collaborate (formally and informally) in knowledge production.
As we prepare our students for the future, it is critical that we also strengthen our values-based education. We want our students to learn socio-emotional skills, such as communication, perspective-taking and active listening, that enable them to engage in meaningful dialogue, appreciate diversity and develop respect for one another.
– Ong Ye Kung,Minister for education, Singapore
Increasingly schools in South Africa are beginning to realise that completing the current curriculum effectively and giving young people the skills that will enable them to thrive in the 21st century are two very different objectives. MindBurst Workshop’s mission is to help learners, teachers, administrators, SGBs and parents make the shift towards prioritising transferable skills. This means:
articulating transferable skills clearly and developing a shared language to talk about them (this is not about memorising a fixed framework but constantly growing our understanding of these skills in different contexts and coming to an agreement about how to talk about them);
understanding what the acquisition of those skills depends on (physical, emotional, attitudinal, intellectual and cultural competencies and components);
innovating activities that help learners to explore, discover, develop and express those skills in diverse and meaningful ways;
starting whole-school conversations on these skills, that integrate them into all subjects and school culture, and that include learners and parents;
making the skills that learners are expected to explore and master explicit and open to interrogation;
involving learners in creating the criteria for assessment (which deepens their understanding of what they are trying to achieve);
scaffolding the transferable skills into learning pathways so that learners can receive accurate and meaningful assessments about how their performance can grow, instead of simply ranking them against other learners, or what is expected in their grade, by allocating an abstract mark;
developing assessment methodologies that can, as the point above calls for, provide learners with accurate and meaningful feedback, and guide the school’s strategic decisions on what skills to focus on;
showing exactly how these skills can be used to adapt to change, create sustainable livelihoods and personal fulfilment in the future.
The WEFFI 2018 report highlights on-going teacher training as one of the key strategies that distinguishes top education systems.
Teachers must also engage in continuous learning to stay ahead of the curve. ‘Lifelong learning’ is becoming an imperative in a variety of professions – teaching foremost among them. Teaching methods must be continuously updated, as future-skills requirements are fluid. Yet this challenge is not being met: only nine index economies currently require in-service training of upper secondary teachers that includes future-skills training.
As educators seek to identify the right skills and teaching approaches to ready students for tomorrow’s challenges, the ground is shifting beneath their feet.
Projections of future job markets and work environments vary widely. New technologies give rise to both optimism and trepidation about their impact on the workforce. Climate change appears to be accelerating. Political headwinds against globalisation and all it entails are gaining strength. And in many parts of the world, once firmly held assumptions about the virtues of democracy, civil freedoms and respect for diversity are being questioned. In this context, the urgency is clear about the need to adapt education systems to deliver problem-solving, collaboration, creative and other skills that will help tomorrow’s adults address such challenges.
From a MindBurst Workshop perspective, our young people will be empowered to make the most of the present and thrive in the future when they can:
communicate clearly and confidently;
collaborate dynamically and participate actively in productive dialogue;
risk small, regular, and carefully designed experiments;
persevere and not give up when a solution isn’t immediately obvious; and
adapt to change with as little anxiety as possible.
Read more about MindBurst Workshop’s work on transferable skills.