I spent Monday in masterclass so to speak at the ACARA national roundtable on curriculum for the 21st century. The roundtable was an opportunity to hear from international experts and educators in the context of how we are responding at a national and local level to the rapidly changing world and how jurisdictions are responding to, and planning for, the nature of schooling in a contemporary world.

thinkerIt was good to see ACARA looking over the horizon as we move our focus from implementing practicalities to imagining possibilities. Charles Fadel from the Center of Curriculum Design delivered an fascinating keynote on how we pursue depth of understanding in today’s world. He began with examples of the exponential rise of technology and how it is both a source of disruption (see Dan Pink chapter in Whole New Mind on abundance, Asia and automation) but also huge possibilities.

The challenge then for schooling is how do we keep up with technology given the rapid growth we are witnessing? Fadel warns about falling into the trap of playing catch up because we never will be able to, a fact that he demonstrated so profoundly. We should let the race to catch up distract us from the core issue, that is how to construct relevant learning experience for young people.

We know that what we have been teaching isn’t relevant to today’s world but the assumption is that we need to revisit what we teach. What are the things that could be taught that are of value today?

Fadel suggests subjects like journalism, entrepreneurship, psychology, linguistics, philosophy, robotics and 3D printing but he warns that it’s not an argument between teaching STEM or humanities. Both are equally important in today’s world. Employers don’t want employees with knowledge or skills – they want both.

Interestingly the SMH ran an OpEd piece today examining whether the supply of university graduates exceeds demand in a world of MOOCs and off-shoring.  The piece referred to OECD figures showing the number of young people without work globally has risen by 30 percent since 2007.  The author goes on to say that:

Many professions have outsourced the training of young people to universities, expecting the higher-education sector to provide ready-made graduates who can step into corporate jobs. Heaven help our teenage and graduate recruitment markets if economic growth deteriorates, companies more aggressively cut costs, or new technologies lead to some graduate jobs disappearing. It would be an economic and social catastrophe to have so many young people sit idle.

We know the stakes are much higher today than they ever have been.  The demand on learners is great and even greater on schools and education systems. We also know that we must bridge the gap between what is taught and what is actually needed. But who decides on what is needed or relevant? Who defines the curriculum and are students part of the design process? These are questions  we must answer but I don’t believe we have defined the elusive ‘we’ yet?  Are students part of the design process?

While I don’t have all the answers, I liked Fadel’s response to the question – what is the role of a teacher in today’s world?  To teach children how to learn.

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