Education in our Century
Mr Tom Batty
Our desire for connection, engagement and knowledge is intrinsic and strong.
Some months ago, while out walking on an English summer’s evening with the hay in the field and a farmer going about his business, my elder daughter asked where the walking tracks had come from. Giving my best take at a potted history, I proffered the view that not so long ago, when most people lived in hamlets, villages and small towns, the desire to roam and explore other communities was met on foot.
Gathering momentum, while sensitive to fragile knowledge, I suggested that the Industrial Revolution had changed everything, bringing movement, connection, and the sharing of ideas, practice and expectations. It was movement that gathered pace as footpaths became horse tracks, which gave way to roads and railways, then to flight paths and now to a seemingly infinite array of electromagnetic waves taking us everywhere, but nowhere.To consider education in our century, I think it necessary to set a context which reflects the major changes to, and influences on, the landscape in which we live and seek to prepare young people for all that might be made to come about.
To my mind, the biggest societal shifts have been driven by advances in means by which we connect, engage and acquire knowledge. Amongst these, I would probably place the advent of television sets in people’s homes as the biggest such influence of the last century. For the first time the lives, thoughts and aspirations of others came visually into homes, bringing unprecedented opportunity for both knowledge and influence. Television connected us, and, in making the extraordinary normal while convincing that the mundane could ostensibly be otherwise, gave us our first continual visual experience of acquiring vicariously, the experiences that forge decision making.
It was a trait that would gather momentum through the last century, and explode into this one with the opportunities inherent in a world in which all are seemingly instantaneously and continuously connected to each other, and to information that was once the preserve of the few.Our desire for connection, engagement and knowledge is intrinsic and strong.
The continuous and global nature of our connectivity creates ever greater opportunity to influence to the greater good. Like, and unlike, minds can share interests and insight, and collaborate to pose and solve problems without the resources that once required engagement with major institutions. With the opportunities come challenges, primarily those connected to judgement. Scotch boys of this century will need to be able to discern from the continual stream of information, and requests for connection, those worthy of pursuing, from those best left to the person behind the stumps. And the barrier of distance, now so readily overcome, has been fundamental in forging identity and a sense of purpose. In grasping the opportunities of connectedness, Scotch boys will need to remain mindful of those things which bind us together.
There is also threat, I suspect, that the ease with which saturation coverage can be achieved could give rise to greater uniformity, conformity and an anaesthetised spiral to mediocrity; be it by the erosion of independence through increased centralisation and direct control, or by what might be termed a Bucket List outlook in which all seek the same few life defining endpoints rather than valuing individual journey as the real goal. The warnings of Orwell’s Animal Farm and Huxley’s Brave New World might still need to be heeded.
Into such an environment, I would sprinkle (courtesy of Messrs Christensen, Csíkszentmihályi and Pink) the following driving themes as being amongst those likely to be of influence in the coming decades:
- Disruptive innovation: innovation that is usually simpler and cheaper than current practice, does not sustain the current model, and benefits those not using the current model.
- Flow: complete absorption in what one does.
- Autonomy: the desire to direct our own lives.
- Mastery: the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
- Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
This is the context in which I offer the following observations for education in our century.
Required skills for our century
Young people will increasingly need to be able to demonstrate:
- adaptability to complexity and variety;
- good judgement in discerning between information worth pursuing and that which is better ignored;
- an independence of mind, built on a strong sense of self, that is adaptable to collaboration in a global environment;
- the ability and technical fluency to engage and collaborate across networks;
- an appreciation of those fundamentals and principles that have shaped the world to date and continue to underpin how it might be made to evolve;
- the ability to lead by influence;
- initiative, enterprise and entrepreneurialism;
- global mindfulness; and,
- a willingness and ability to continue to learn.
ABOVE: JUNIOR SCHOOL STUDENTS IN A ROBOTICS CLASS
Teachers in our century
Education in our century is likely to see teaching continue to become both more individualised and more globalised. In addition to those fundamental skills of our profession – subject mastery and the ability to forge positive relationships – the century which is upon us is likely to require teachers increasingly to:
- be adaptable to complexity and variety;
- possess the ability to see intellectually and psychologically for each student and develop individualised programmes;
- possess the ability and desire to engage students in collaborative problem solving in global settings; and,
- be able to instil, through conversation and engagement, 21st century skills in students throughout and beyond the academic curriculum.
School structures in our century
The structures of schools will necessarily evolve to ensure the strong foundations of our past can meet the demands of the future. I suspect this will include:
- less reliance on compliance and more on reasoning and persuasion;
- a shift from tasking individuals to find the right answers, to tasking groups to identify the right questions and discover possible answers;
- connecting staff and students by interest and not just by department or year level;
- leadership through influence rather than authority;
- a learning environment which values principles and fundamentals over specifics;
- professional learning centred on peer-to-peer interaction rather than outsourced or ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions; and, importantly,
- a physical environment which both supports and engenders all of the above.
I hope you can see that the journey we are on at Scotch, through our educational intents, our master planning and the manner in which the two connect, has been constructed to place Scotch boys in position to uphold and further progress our distinguished record of service, enterprise and influence. I hope you can see, through your connection to Scotch, be it directly via your son’s education or through editions of this magazine, that we are working to bring about such end; to best position the fruits of our strong foundations to fuel our Australian optimism and desire, not just to replicate the best of the past, but to improve on it.
In the second Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan, Spock and Kirk together proffer the view that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. Or, as put by Bentham, ‘It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.’
I suspect that the movement of people and their ideas, and the desire for influence, will continue to provide the fundamental challenges and opportunities for boys leaving Scotch College in the remainder of the 21st century. Perhaps our most important responsibility is to equip them with the skills and character to challenge what needs challenging and support what needs supporting, cognisant that the long term needs of the many are often best served by protecting the needs of the few or the one.