The intersection of learning models and technology provide a unique opportunity to improve education outcomes, as evidenced at the recent Global Education Leaders’ Program in Helsinki- the sixth meeting for school system leaders from countries, states and cities around the world. All twelve are building student capabilities for a knowledge economy, and their roadmaps are well-advanced. But there’s a problem. For once it’s not the curriculum students should follow or how they should be assessed. It’s the interconnection between the learning model and the enabling technology.
Helsinki is a good place to think about such things. Through rigorous selection processes and respect for professional status, the Finns have built a formidable teaching force which consistently achieves the best exam results in the world. But they openly recognize that a traditional instructional model is now failing to convey the softer skills that students and employers are looking for.
The Koreans, whose results are almost as good, have the same problem, only worse: they’re also dealing with the nervous stress of students striving to outperform their parents and their peers. The Korean response is Smart Education, the cloud-based delivery of digital textbooks to student devices. But under polite but insistent fire from teachers, the policy-makers are redefining the battlefield. The talk now is of identifying the right learning model for the future, convincing the teachers to adopt it – and then providing the technology (mobile devices, collaboration applications, and rich media) to support it.
So what might this learning model look like? The GELP leaders agree. Students learn best when addressing real-world problems, working collaboratively, applying knowledge they’ve acquired across a number of subject disciplines. Where they learn, when they learn, the technology at their disposal – all these factors should be flexed to create the perfect conditions for learning.
The Brazilians, with much poorer education outcomes than the Finns and the Koreans, are promoting change on a scale that no other country has attempted. Cesar Callegari, Secretary of Basic Education, has sent for a new learning model, better teachers and disruptive technology. But in the rush for results, the tablets have made it into the classroom before the teachers. And pioneers like the excellent Teacher Development College in Sao Paulo are now under pressure to produce a new model workforce, against a ticking clock.
The truth is the technology not only enables the new learning model but helps to shape it, and its introduction has to go hand in hand with the introduction of both new pedagogy and extensive retraining. No one has yet achieved this. Cue India. In Helsinki last week, an Indian team, led by the Joint Permanent Secretary for Human Development, emerged for the first time as ambitious players in the transformation debate. India will position its Central Secondary Education Board as an engine for wider change. Can it combine Western and Eastern learning models and deploy technology at scale? Answers in Rio, where the Global Education Leaders Program reconvenes in November.