Wentworth Point Public School

Growing Our Children for the Future

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Future learning

Preparing our children for life-long learning

Mark Scott
Secretary of the NSW Department of Education

While it has always been the case that our schools hold the future within their classrooms, today's education system needs to set the foundations for these young children to thrive in life and work in 2050 and perhaps through to 2090.

Many experts are predicting that developments in artificial intelligence and automation will transform the way we live and work, on a scale similar to the industrial revolution.

AI is already becoming integrated into daily life – think of the smartphone in your pocket.

What then the role of education?

We're closely examining what these rapid changes will demand of school education. What does it mean to say that we want these five-year-olds to leave school with the depth of knowledge, skills, and confidence required to navigate a more complex world?

Literacy and numeracy will continue to be the building blocks on which all learning rests.
Without these foundations, higher order learning and more complex skills cannot be developed. But basic literacy and numeracy skills are not enough.

Many of the routine jobs for which basic literacy and numeracy were sufficient will be performed by machines that will be able to do them more quickly, more accurately and less expensively.

The profound changes ahead demand an education approach that lifts the proficiency of all students.

What might this take?

If future adults will need to reinvent themselves and constantly adapt to change, then education will need to focus even more on learning how to learn as well as what to learn.

A theme emerging from our investigations is that some of the key skills and attributes of the future are not necessarily the ones that we directly measure in our major assessments.

We are good at assessing literacy and numeracy skills and students' depth of content knowledge in core subjects. These will continue to be critical. But what of broader skills such as resilience, that idea of the growth mindset, the capacity to fail and try again, to persevere?

Do we know enough about the most effective teaching practices, the tools and resources schools need to nurture them and how best to assess their attainment?

All the while we must take care in discussions about the measurement of these skills to avoid the pitfalls of the high stakes test.

What then of empathy, often described as a key 21st-century competency? How we build empathy into education systems is a big question, as it is for the corporate world which has traditionally considered empathy a "soft" and lower value skill.

While school education is often framed as "classroom learning", to state the obvious, learning takes place not only in the classroom but outside the classroom and outside of school.

Beyond the four walls of the classroom is often where real-life problem-solving occurs, where students work and play in teams to set goals and use determination, hard work and planning to achieve them. Consider the discipline and collaboration built into a sporting team …  Or the creativity that comes from a school play … the empathy that's built into raising funds for Legacy and volunteering at a homeless shelter ... or the critical thinking involved with debating.

We know too that we need to lift the bar for science and maths subjects and spark an early interest in children, particularly girls and particularly in maths.

In Australia only 16 percent of STEM-qualified people are female and we see a stark gender inequality in the more practical and challenging STEM subjects. The perception of girls about their abilities, particularly in mathematics, is of real concern.

Looking beyond maths and science, it is clear that the impact of advancing technologies means students need to be digitally literate.

As AI and automation infiltrate many more aspects of our lives, it will become increasingly important our students are able to engage with the ethical questions that they raise for all of us – the privacy implications and the potential for in-built biases in the algorithms that are making automated decisions that affect our lives.

Great teaching will never become obsolete. The challenges that advancing technologies present to education can only be met by exceptional teachers and school leaders. We don't want to lose sight of our teachers' greatest strengths – those that are uniquely human – and we need to grow those strengths. The relationships teachers form with students, to inspire them and lead them to greater things, will be more important than ever.

Whether today's young people are well prepared to take advantage of tomorrow's opportunities – how well placed today's kindergarten student will be to experience happiness and success in life and work in 2030 – will depend on the policies and approaches that we develop now.

This article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 29 June 2017.


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