igoryankovsky (igoryankovsky) wrote,

Back to the future: are schools able to «catch up» with innovative reality?

Last year Ukrainian government launched the most challenging, yet crucial medical and pension reforms. Large-scale social transformations are always painful: people are not ready to accept the new reality and reformers to explain the essence of the reform. Meanwhile, one of the spheres that have required a major update for a long time, experienced surface alterations so far. I mean the reform of secondary education.

At the first stage, innovative reforms mainly address the youngest schoolchildren: teachers will give less homework to children, achievements will be confidential and theoretical part of many subjects will give way to practice. Such steps can only be welcomed, but they are not sufficient. I am far from criticizing the Ministry of Education of Ukraine: historically, school remains one of the most conservative social institutions. Therefore, in many countries education reform lags behind the dynamic «update» of goals and the content of university education.

To my mind, it is more useful to evaluate successful cases. The recognition of a huge gap between the innovative reality and the school, which prepares not for the future, but for the past, contributes, as a rule, to the revision of traditional teaching practices. Creativity, emotional intelligence, teamwork skills, risk appetite become minimum requirements for a competitive person. How does secondary education address these challenges?

First of all, its focus changes: from memorizing and mechanical mastery of educational material in a vacuum to promoting unique talents and aptitudes of pupils that can serve them in everyday life. The information, which is now excessive, is deprived of any practical value by itself. You can always ask Google. There is another challenge: what exactly and how shall you ask? What shall you do with this knowledge afterwards?
Finish schools recently introduced the so-called «multidisciplinary subjects» as a pilot project — schoolchildren work in team on projects using knowledge from different areas. Finns state themselves that «studying topics or phenomena» will gradually substitute «studying subjects». For example, chemistry, physics, biology, ecology and housekeeping are all relevant to the topic of nutrition.

Moreover, such an integrated approach is important for human sciences. Let’s recall the study of history in the Soviet school: the best pupils were the ones who remembered the dates better than anyone. And now, I must say, this approach remains to some extent. I believe that it is fundamentally mistaken.

Far more important is to understand the essence and true consequences of certain historical events. For instance, epidemics were one of the most significant factors that influenced European history and culture in the medieval period. In the result of two plague epidemics in the 14th century, Europe re-established its population only until the 19th century. At that time, feudal relationships began to show signs of strain. It is clear that a multidisciplinary study is the best way to describe it.

Let’s go back to the Finnish school system. A multidisciplinary class usually lasts for about three hours — the teacher only gives guidelines to pupils who search for the necessary information in the internet, make reports and give presentations by themselves. Interestingly, the physical space of the school changes due to multidisciplinary subjects. The classroom becomes transformative since during a lesson pupils may need a scene with a projector, a mini-studio to shoot a video, and ordinary desks with chairs.

The next logical step is the cancellation of a fixed duration of lessons. A traditional lesson creates the impression that the work is finished not when the result is achieved, but when the bell rings. The necessity to adhere to the timetable and to perform the same tasks at the same pace is judged to be anachronistic. «The school as it exists today, with classrooms, lessons and recesses, has appeared at the period of development of factories, considers the Head of Helsinki City Education Department. The children whose parents worked at factories had to be occupied with something. Schools taught them what was necessary for the future worker: to obey bosses, to live on a schedule». Nowadays «the philosophy of studying» has changed radically. It is a flexible and open process.

The decentralization of the educational system leads to competing schools for pupils: in many countries the amount of the subvention depends on class fill rate. Therefore, some schools offer «the extended range» of subjects — from learning another foreign language to designing clothes for pets and waste recycling workshops. Some schools acquaint their pupils with careers of the future. In Estonian Polstami schoolchildren construct drones and learn 3D modeling along with NATO instructors. It is not just an advertising gimmick.

Schools are now on the way which was previously passed by universities: teachers try to share with pupils not so much as the knowledge in the classical sense, but the skills needed in the future. Therefore, in Finland children of junior classes are taught programming and entrepreneurship and in Estonia — digital, civic and communication skills. However, «taught» is not quite the right word. The teacher of the 21st century, first of all, is the one who networks and creates social attitudes.

Today, for the first time in the history of human development, education, owing to digital technologies, becomes truly open, democratic and affordable. Everyone can study something new, if he or she wants. You will be able to find any content and format: TED Talks, webinars, online courses, educational games and trainings, let alone open libraries. Such educational programs traditionally meet societal needs. For instance, Ukrainian educational platform «VUM» offers online courses on information security, social entrepreneurship, project management and many other priority areas on a free of charge basis.

According to psychologists, distance education disciplines a person much better than the class «from call to call». The ability to build individual educational trajectory and the ability to cooperate with others «at a distance» are the skills worth learning at school. Today many leading companies leave offices, and «flexible» interdisciplinary teams carry out strategic tasks. What the world will look like when the current first-grade pupils finish school, it’s even hard to guess. Therefore, do not be afraid to experiment!

Tags: education, innovation, reform, schools, yankovsky
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