Another call for change

education new thinking

Last week the respected Tony Blair Institute for Global Change published a report calling for “a radically different education system” in the UK. The report is part of its Future of Britain initiative which aims to “meet the challenges the country faces in the decades ahead”. It was published in the same week as GCSE exam results showed a widening gap between richer and poorer parts of the country and between north and south, and just weeks after the publication of a comprehensive report by the Times Education Commission, which consulted more than 600 experts and concluded that Britain’s education system “is failing on every measure”. Life-Based Learning is also about fundamentally rethinking the purposes of education. It is a bold call to make life itself and the life challenges that we all face – now and in the future – the focus of a fully-rounded approach to children’s learning and development.

Central to the Tony Blair Institute’s thinking is the need to “futureproof” education by focusing on developing skills to complement the technologies that will drive the next stage of economic development – “a world increasingly shaped by automation and artificial intelligence (AI)”. The workers of tomorrow, it says, will need the 4Cs – critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaborative problem-solving.

The report calls for “a revised curriculum, more sophisticated modes of assessment and a new, rigorous accountability framework that is better attuned to the things that matter most” – combined with what it calls “a comprehensive edtech strategy”. The national curriculum should be overhauled, with schools following a slimmed-down curriculum consisting of numeracy, literacy, science and digital skills, allowing “plenty of room to innovate”.

The report is highly critical of the current education system, saying, for example, that:

  • it relies heavily on passive forms of learning focused on direct instruction and memorisation – ie rote learning
  • it overemphasises knowledge via a narrow set of methods and subjects
  • it restricts schools’ ability to focus on other valuable subjects and skills

Life-Based Learning and the purpose of education

There are significant areas of overlap between the Tony Blair Institute’s report and Life-Based Learning, particularly in relation to the curriculum – the argument that the current national curriculum is not fit for purpose and needs to be fundamentally rethought.

Life-based Learning aims to reimagine education by bringing greater meaning to learning, particularly subject learning, by making life itself the primary purpose – and focus – of learning. We owe it to our children to equip them with the knowledge, skills and values to find health and happiness in the modern world and to better prepare them – as they grow into adulthood – to manage the life-threatening challenges facing individuals, societies and environments across the planet.

This is an urgent priority. Time is not on our side.

Alas, the omens are not good. The two candidates to be the UK’s next prime minister have now been campaigning for two months, but their only significant comments about education have been in favour of the expansion of grammar schools and (in Liz Truss’s case) to suggest mandatory Oxbridge interviews for able school-leavers. Besides, it is hard to imagine the focus in education in the next few months being on anything other than the soaring cost pressures on schools and colleges and on whether they will even be able to guarantee opening both morning and afternoon five days a week during the coming winter.

Nevertheless, the campaign to reimagine education needs to go on.

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Image at the head of this article by Freelance Grafiker from Pixabay.

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