Students unable to navigate through our complex digital landscape are simply no longer able to participate in our social, economic and cultural life.
In the past, education was 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. These days, we no longer know exactly 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.
A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would last for a lifetime of their students. Today, schools need to prepare students for more rapid economic and social change than ever before, for jobs that have not yet been created, to use technologies that have not yet been invented, and to solve social problems that we do not yet know will arise.
The dilemma for educators is that the kind of skills that are easiest to teach and easiest to test are also the skills that are easiest to digitise, automate and outsource. Half of the jobs that we know in OECD countries can already be carried out by digital technology. Put simply, the world no longer rewards people just for what they know – Google knows everything – but for what they can do with what they know. 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, last but not least, it’s about the social and emotional skills that help people live and work together. Think about courage, integrity, curiosity, leadership, resilience or empathy.
All that demands new and innovative approaches to education where technology can no longer be on the margins of education but needs to be central to any solution.
I know teachers and school leaders are working hard to make this work. But our latest PISA results show that the reality in our schools lags considerably behind the promise of technology. In 2012, virtually all 15-year-old students in OECD countries had a computer at home, but less than three quarters used a computer or tablet at school, and in some countries it was fewer than half. In fact, the first thing we usually tell students entering their school is to turn off anything that has an on-or-off switch.
But far more importantly, even where computers are used in classrooms, their impact on student learning outcomes is mixed at best. Students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes. Imagine that, the more intensively students use computers at school, the less digital literate they seem to be, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.
And perhaps the most disappointing finding is that technology seems of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Put simply, ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and math seems still to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than subsidising access to high-tech devices and services.
So it’s clear that more of the same technology cannot be the answer. But it’s also clear that we need to get this right if we want to provide teachers with learning environments that support 21st-century pedagogies and, most importantly, if we want to provide children with the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world.
That’s why we have invited Education Ministers and industry leaders to come together in Israel for our second Global Summit on the Education Industry. Why Israel? Because it has such a vibrant startup culture in education where educators, entrepreneurs and policy makers aren’t afraid of each other but collaborate day after day for more innovative and productive educational solutions.
Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge. Why should students be stuck with a textbook that was printed two years ago, and maybe designed ten years ago, when they can have access to the world’s best and most up-to-date information?
Technology also provides great platforms for collaboration in knowledge creation where teachers can share and enrich teaching materials. And indeed, if you look at the countries with the most technology-savvy students, they typically start with connecting teachers before pushing technology into classrooms.
But we also need to become much better at using technology to support new pedagogies that focus on learners as active participants with tools for inquiry-based pedagogies and collaborative workspaces. Technology is our best bet to enhance experiential learning, foster project-based and inquiry-based pedagogies, facilitate hands-on activities and cooperative learning, deliver formative real-time assessment and support learning and teaching communities. And there are plenty of good examples around, such as remote and virtual labs, highly interactive courseware that builds on state-of-the-art instructional design, sophisticated software for experimentation and simulation, social media and serious games.
And all of this is isn’t just about 21st-century learning. The teachers of today’s “connected” learners are confronted with lots of related issues, from information overload to plagiarism, from protecting children from online risks like fraud, violations of privacy up to setting an appropriate media diet. We expect schools to educate our children to become critical consumers of Internet services and electronic media, to help them make informed choices. And we expect schools to raise awareness about the risks that children face on line and how to avoid them.
To better deliver on the promises which technology holds, countries will need convincing strategies to build teachers’ capacity. And policy-makers need to become better at building support for this agenda. Those are precisely the topics that we want to discuss at this summit.
Given the uncertainties that accompany all change, teachers will always favour the status quo. If we want to mobilise support for more technology-rich schools, we need to become better at communicating the need and building support for change. We need to invest in capacity development and change-management skills, develop sound evidence and feed this evidence back to institutions, and of course back all that up with sustainable financing.
And none of this is going to work without teachers becoming active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too. One thing is clear, technology can amplify great teaching, but great technology will never replace poor teaching.
This summit is a start for this and the OECD stands ready to support and facilitate the dialogue between Ministers and the Education Industry to take this discussion forward.
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills