“Most schools are based on a model of industrial production, where uniform materials are converted into a predetermined product. This model has proven itself over the last 150 years and works exceptionally well for producing automobiles, washing machines and chicken nuggets. Students, however, are not chicken nuggets”.
So opens the first chapter of Louis Cozolino´s book “The social neuroscience of education”. The “factory” or “production line” analogy to describe mainstream learning environments is widely used by education reformers.
Though the analogy is perhaps not as neat as we might think, it does still hold true for the type of education that most of us still experience in almost every continent and context: standardized testing, accreditations as quality control, preparation of learners for function by design, and all in order to meet current market demand.
Learners roll off the production line with a score in this subject, and a score in that subject. They can present this list to another institution and add some more scores, or go directly to a job and enter the scoring system of their employer.
They may have no idea yet as to how to manage their own personal finances, how to spot bias in an article on social media, take constructive feedback or learn to embrace failure as a learning opportunity. Similarly, they might not be highly skilled at building agreement with peers or at seeing the big picture in strategic problem solving. None of that is on their list.
Now, certain professions do need very specific training with assured quality standards. We would really like to know that the surgeon bearing down on us with sharpened steel does, in fact, hold a recognised qualification and has met an agreed standard. We almost included lawyers in this paragraph too, but as legal systems are arguably algorithms, AI will be doing most of the caseload soon in any case. Much of the rest, however, is subject to change.
A future we cannot control
So what about the rest of the functions we may wish our learners to carry out in the societies of the future? Well, the problem lies within the framing of that question.
The idea that everything in our future can be perfectly predicted and measured is just not true, and hanging on to that illusion of control is one way in which mainstream thinking is letting us down badly.
This is chicken nugget thinking, where the trends of industry are unfolding at a manageable pace in linear form; a few outliers pushing technology forward, captains of industry distilling that into opportunity, and the workforce beneath them falling into the lockstep march of progress.
This world was a reality in the days and pages of Charles Dickens, but please sir, we can’t have no more.
The Kaufman Foundation puts it very neatly when they say that “Our predictions of the future are often rooted in extensions of the edge of what currently exists, so it’s very hard to imagine a world more than a couple of decades away.”
Trying to prepare learners for jobs that exist in the industries of our limited imaginations, is trying to shape the future to fit our past. It is time to let go. The Greeks knew a few things about education, and in perfectly stoic minimalism, Epictetus tells us that “Some things are up to us and others are not.”
Dickens knew even then, when he wrote in his novel Hard Times that the education system around him was based upon the principles of “educating the reason without stooping to the cultivation of the sentiments and affections. Never wonder. By means of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, settle everything somehow, and never wonder.” That was written in 1854, and yet top down education still remains the dominant model of our times.
A time to wonder
Wonder gives life beauty, feeds motivation, drives enquiry, embraces failure as learning, and is at the heart of play. Wonder is innate, and it is the self at its most aligned. The root of all innovation, of great ideas, of paradigm shifts and revolutions of the heart and mind; all of it begins with two words…” what if..?”
And that is where we should find our learning guides. Teachers teach, professors profess, trainers train and formadores literally give form to the shape of others' knowledge. Wonder, however, needs no teacher.
A learning guide, however, is there to accompany learners on their own great adventure, like Leo, the servant leader in Herman Hesse’s Journey to the East. We can only walk beside them for a while, help them frame their own reflections in the light of new knowledge, encourage them to take a moment in seeing how far they have come, and support them to decide how best to meet what comes next.
Through self-directed learning, true passions are uncovered. In the learning studios, busy hands forge stronger minds, as our learners solve problems, iterate towards solutions, collaborate when it’s needed, and turn inwards in a quiet space when reflection serves them better. Wonder is not dampened, but ignited.
Embracing the future
Technological development, AI, climate change, fragmented politics, deep fake videos and “fake news”. The swirling mass of challenge and opportunity is too fluid to be met with a static education system.
Our learners need to be the problem solvers for their own future, the innovators and the global citizens to lead change and find a way forward. For that to happen, the best we can do is equip them as best we can to face these challenges, and let them go. A great ship is always safe in the harbour, but that is not why great ships are made.
With that in mind, we invite you to look at our paradigm for future-oriented learning, and to be part of this discussion with us. The paradigm is still evolving, as nothing ever remains the same, but you will see that skills, competencies and concepts are firmly at the heart of the design. These elements are fluid; they can grow as our learners grow, and as the future unfolds.
How many adults reading this have said “I wish I had learned this earlier” or “I have never used half of what I learned in school”? Imagine instead, if you will, the next generation of learners boldly facing the future; embracing uncertainty because they know that they are ready to learn, adapt, collaborate and create and still, even still, they can wonder.