Our modern education system isn’t all that modern; the last major innovation in education was made more than 100 years ago. And, even now, when we talk about education reform, it’s often with retroactive perspective and a traditional tone. Students must meet certain benchmarks or teachers aren’t doing their jobs, and if school performance dips below a certain threshold, it could lose funding, or be shut down altogether.


It certainly makes sense for teacher performance to be linked in part to student achievement; however, the current climate is not one in which creativity and innovation can thrive. Yes some do well, but there is growing concern that even the best students aren’t prepared to compete in the emerging global economy.


While our current educational system worked well for training people to work on factory assembly lines and other repetitive tasks, it doesn’t seem to be working for today’s knowledge-based economy. And the solution resists simplicity. It requires 21st century design principles and there needs to be innovation at all levels — from leadership and policy to culture and leadership — to help build a system of education that prepares students for the new-style working world they are likely to enter.


For all the talk about millennials changing workplace culture, many are receiving an education designed for the industrial culture of the 19th and 20th century. There’s a growing movement in this regard and in the upcoming documentary Most Likely to Succeed Andrew McAfee, associate director at the MIT Centre for Business states poignantly:


“My fear is that they’re heading into a society and an economy and a workforce that doesn’t value those skills very much anymore. And I think we need to think we need to take a good hard look and figure out what kinds of people, what kinds of skills are demanded in the technologically extraordinary society and economy that we’re creating.”


The reality is that the development of a 21st century education to support the techno-industrial revolution requires a shift both culturally and structurally. Many educational institutes will need to reconsider some of the organisational practices that stifle creativity and innovation. This doesn’t mean throwing out all structure, it just means developing new ones that give educators space to create an environment in which students learn the skills necessary to contribute to the modern economy in a meaningful and rewarding way.


Exactly how this shift takes shape is a matter of experimentation. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has laid out a framework with specific competencies, while Most Likely to Succeed encourages community involvement, creativity from educators, and innovation in leadership.


Change is not easy; it never is. But now is the time to embrace the discomfort and make the changes necessary to prepare our students more adequately for the workplaces of the 21st century with design principles to match.







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