Learning in the 21st Century - Policy Lessons from Around the World


policy lessons on 21st century learning

Learning is fundamental to life and through it individuals develop the ability to connect with others and participate in a professional, cultural and civic life. Learning also encourages independent thinking, helps us adapt to change and live life more meaningfully.

Success in the 21st century requires knowing how to learn. Students must develop strong critical thinking and interpersonal communication skills in order to be successful in a widely interconnected and complex world. 21st century learning should be an effort to define learning using modern tools. Too often, learners around the world lack access to quality and relevant learning and there is a widening gap between the learning we have and the learning we need to meet the challenges and aspirations of societies and individuals around the world.

To address this, the 2013 WISE Summit, Reinventing Education for Life, was held at the Qatar National Convention Centre, Doha on October 29-31, that explored how innovation can close the gap between education, learning and life and brought worldwide policy lessons on 21st century learning with the participation of more than 1,200 prominent education, corporate, political and social leaders from over 100 countries in the three days of debate, dialog and networking.

Mr. Andreas Schleicher, the Deputy Director for Education and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the OECD ’s Secretary-General, shared his views on learning in the 21st century and its innovative new policies from various countries around the world. The OECD is basically considered an organization that judges countries’ economic prospects and their current economic achievements. But some time ago, the speaker, Andreas Schleicher among others came up with the idea of evaluating a key element of any sort of economic progress that is, education. Today, the OECD evaluates around 74 countries as to their educational achievements, standards and prospects. This article discusses the insights that Schleicher provided on 21st century learning and its progress through various developments in countries around the world.

Schleicher highlighted that today, schools need to prepare students for more rapid changes than ever before, for jobs that have not yet been created, using technologies that have not yet been invented, to solve problems that we don’t yet know will arise. Learning today should involve creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making; about ways of working, including communication and collaboration; about tools for working, including the capacity to recognize and exploit the potential of new technologies; and, last but not least, about the capacity to live in a multi-faceted world as active and responsible citizens.

Schleicher provided insights into the views of various countries on 21st century learning and what steps they are taking to reform learning in the modern century. Here are some of these:

  • Finland, one of the world’s top performing education systems has made teaching their most sought-after profession. They provide an environment where teachers work together to frame good practice and provide intelligent ways for teachers to grow in their careers. Pasi Salhberg, the director of CIMO, Finland says that Finland has been able to maintain that teaching in a school attracts young people and thinks that what distinguishes their schools from other schools is that they have been able to keep the teaching profession intellectually attractive and interesting for teachers as they can use the knowledge and skills they develop while teaching throughout their lives. They have a major role in curriculum planning and design and in assessing student performance.
  • Professor Tan Onn Seng from Singapore’s National Institute of Education describes the philosophy behind their curriculum for 21st century learning. They prepare the teacher to be the teacher of a learner and be the good teacher of the subject who is passionate and clear about how to make people learn best. In Singapore, teachers are encouraged to be lifelong learners and are part of professional learning communities where they can learn from each other and improve their practice. Singapore encourages innovation in teaching practices in flexible learning environments, lays emphasis on technology and leverages it to make a significant impact in classroom instruction.
  • Japan is always thought of a country where rote learning is dominant, but today Japan is at the frontier of novel practices. According to evaluation data, Japan is seen as the single most country that has seen most progress on strengthening creative skills that shows that you cannot only get more students in a class to raise the average performance but you can change the instructional practices itself in the course of a few years in a class.
  • In Sweden, school principals are seen every day challenging their teachers with questions that instill in them the spirit to perform better than other school teachers. They encourage teachers to work in highly collaborative ways with other teachers and professionals within the same organization or in networks of professional communities.
  • Ontario, Canada has made peer learning systemic, trying to build on the good ideas that are buried in the system. The Former Deputy Minister of Education, Ontario, Ben Levin describes this by saying that they placed a lot of emphasis on the good things that were happening in the system. They started with the idea that there were lots of good things happening and the need was to scale those, have more people know about them, celebrate, support and make them widespread.
  • Two decades ago, Korea was one of the least performing education systems, but presently, the rate of students who complete high school has remarkably increased and the rate of students demonstrating excellence has doubled. A major overhaul of Poland’s school systems helped dramatically reduce performance variability between schools, turnaround many of the lowest performing schools and raise the overall school performance. Portugal was able to consolidate its fragmented school systems and improve overall performance and equity and so did Germany.

Schleicher concluded by emphasizing that those who claim the relative standing of countries in these kind of comparisons mainly reflects social and cultural factors must now acknowledge that education improvement is possible. The rapidly improving education systems don’t change the composition of population or wealth nor do they fire their teachers, but they change their education policies and practices.

The challenges for education system reform are tough but this presentation brought together available evidence from around the world to demonstrate that the job can be done. Do watch Schleicher’s presentation and share your views on it. The Comment Box is waiting.

About the Author
Author: Saomya Saxena
Educational technology blogger, loves to research and write about tools and tips for educators on how to integrate technology into everyday instruction creatively and effectively. Fond of reading and writing.

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