A local challenge but a global solution

Striking a balance between competing demands will rarely lead to an either/or choice or even a single solution. Individuals will need to think in a more integrated way that avoids premature conclusions and recognises interconnections

The fast pace of change is creating a set of new challenges that we are being asked to deal with in a relatively short space of time. In education, this is especially true. Schools are often the place where the diverging societal changes – the good and the bad – intertwine.

However, there is some good news. These new challenges are often ones which a lot of other countries are having to face. This means that a country such as Malta is not alone in trying to find solutions, but can look to a wider, and stronger, network of knowledge across different countries.

Last year the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) published a report entitled “The future of education and skills - Education 2030” and, despite it being written with a global perspective, it could’ve easily been written specifically for Malta. This just goes to show how the effects on society and education are, in many ways, parallel between countries and we ought to look more into what others are doing when faced with similar problems.

The reports state that students need to exercise ”agency”. What is agency, you may be asking?

The report states: “Agency implies a sense of responsibility to participate in the world and, in so doing, to influence people, events and circumstances for the better.”

Agency requires the ability to frame a guiding purpose and identify actions to achieve a goal.

To help enable agency, educators must not only recognise learners’ individuality, but also acknowledge the wider set of relationships – with their teachers, peers, families and communities – that influence their learning. A concept underlying the learning framework is “co-agency” – the interactive, mutually supportive relationships that help learners to progress towards their valued goals. In this context, everyone should be considered a learner, not only students but also teachers, school managers, parents and communities.

Two factors, in particular, help learners enable agency. The first is a personalised learning environment that supports and motivates each student to nurture his or her passions, make connections between different learning experiences and opportunities, and design their own learning projects and processes in collaboration with others. The second is building a solid foundation: literacy and numeracy remain crucial. In the era of digital transformation, and with the advent of big data, digital literacy and data literacy are becoming increasingly essential, as are physical health and mental well-being.

The OECD report also highlights three important competencies which the educational experience must provide in order to ‘transform our society and shape our future’. These are (1) the ability to create new value, (2) being able to reconcile tensions and dilemmas and (3) taking responsibility.

There is depth in these three principles, and a lot of awareness of the realities we are facing today and will face tomorrow.

The ability to create new value means that education should not just be about knowledge transfer, but also being able to critique and find ways to creatively build on those ideas. The OECD states that“to prepare for 2030, people should be able to think creatively, develop new products and services, new jobs, new processes and methods, new ways of thinking and living, new enterprises, new sectors, new business models and new social models. Increasingly, innovation springs not from individuals thinking and working alone, but through cooperation and collaboration with others to draw on existing knowledge to create new knowledge. The constructs that underpin the competency include adaptability, creativity, curiosity and open-mindedness”.

The second principle, which is that of reconciling tensions and dilemmas, refers to the adaptability of the individual in a changing society and the ability to bring about positive outcomes from those changes.

“In a world characterised by inequities, the imperative to reconcile diverse perspectives and interests, in local settings with sometimes global implications, will require young people to become adept at handling tensions, dilemmas and trade-offs, for example, balancing equity and freedom, autonomy and community, innovation and continuity, and efficiency and the democratic process.

Striking a balance between competing demands will rarely lead to an either/or choice or even a single solution. Individuals will need to think in a more integrated way that avoids premature conclusions and recognises interconnections. In a world of interdependency and conflict, people will successfully secure their own well-being and that of their families and their communities only by developing the capacity to understand the needs and desires of others.”

The third point, the ability to take responsibility, is perhaps the most important one.

The third transformative competency is a prerequisite of the other two. Dealing with novelty, change, diversity and ambiguity assumes that individuals can think for themselves and work with others. Equally, they require the capacity to consider the future consequences of one’s actions, to evaluate risk and reward, and to accept accountability for the products of one’s work.

This suggests a sense of responsibility, and moral and intellectual maturity, with which a person can reflect upon and evaluate his or her actions in light of his or her experiences, and personal and societal goals, what they have been taught and told, and what is right or wrong. Acting ethically implies asking questions related to norms, values, meanings and limits, such as: What should I do? Was I right to do that? Where are the limits? Knowing the consequences of what I did, should I have done it? Central to this competency is the concept of self-regulation, which involves self-control, self-efficacy, responsibility, problem solving and adaptability.

This is a report about education, and what young people need to possess for a world in 2030, that doesn’t even delve into actual subjects, but concentrates on the big picture and the responsibilities that the adults and leaders of tomorrow will need to develop today. The report delves deeper into explaining these principles and why they are so important. It was a report about global change, but it could’ve easily been about Malta and the challenges ahead of us. The good news is we are not alone, and we can absorb from the wealth of information and knowledge around us.

We are not immune to the developing changes around us, and the best thing we can do is prepare for tomorrow rather than fear it.