What would you like your child to learn at school tomorrow?

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What kind of knowledge and skills does a young adult need in the 21st century? What is really worth teaching and learning, and what kind of attitudes will be needed in future society? In this article, Kari Kivinen ponders these questions on future education.

In Europe, children usually go to school for 5-6 hours a day, 180-190 days a year, for 8-12 years. Education providers bear the huge responsibility of using this time in the best way possible, not only to serve the interests of the child but also to secure the future of society.

Over the last few years, I have had to reflect on the topic from a variety of perspectives: as director in charge of developing the education system, as head of a school implementing the curriculum, and as a father of two children.

My role as a father, in particular, has made the question a deeply personal one: what choices to make, what kind of hobbies to recommend, and how best to encourage, guide and support my children at school.

Reflecting on the EU and OECD recommendations

The 2006 recommendation on the eight key competences for lifelong learning – to be updated by the European Commission this year – covers the relevant knowledge and skills, and is complemented by OECD’s 2030 framework for future education and skills published in 2016.

Globalisation creates unprecedented challenges and opportunities. It is therefore fundamental for new generations to acquire global knowledge and the skills of a global citizen while still at school.

To begin with, mastering one or more languages, learning to read and write, expressing yourself, and knowing how to communicate are all key basic skills.

Global citizenship is about valuing and respecting human dignity and cultural diversity, as well as internalising democratic culture and active citizenship. Global citizens should have the necessary knowledge of global issues, such as climate change, sustainable development, equality and conflict resolution.

Analytical and critical thinking is also important: the ability to approach issues from different perspectives, to challenge common thinking and see the connections between issues. Europe needs entrepreneurial and creative young people with initiative; people who value and make use of innovation to increase their human capital and that of others too. Learning to learn is an essential skill for personal development, at school and in the world of work, where flexibility is key.

Young people should learn to collaborate with people from different backgrounds, cultures and disciplines to solve complex, multidisciplinary issues in a respectful and flexible way. Cultural awareness is important, and so is the ability to appreciate and understand music, literature and visual arts or express oneself through them.

Mathematical competence is needed in everyday life, as are an understanding of the natural world and the ability to apply knowledge and technology to different situations. Right now the hot topic is digital competence. Considering the influence and pervasiveness of digital technologies in current and future societies, it is important that children learn how to positively engage with these tools in school and out of it.

A head teacher’s view

As a head teacher I have often thought about how school could meet the challenges of an ever-changing world faster and more efficiently.

We should give the students an opportunity to explore phenomena relevant for them in a cross-curricular way: this helps them to see how the contents learned in different subjects relate to one another, what kind of interrelationships and links there are, and how a particular phenomenon relates to real life. Opportunities to learn working in teams and on projects are also important to equip students with the essential skills needed in further studies and the world of work.

To manage information overload, students should be provided with media literacy education and tools for developing independent and critical thinking so that they will be able to separate fact from fiction.

Europeans’ life expectancy has increased significantly. It is therefore vitally important for all children, right from an early age, to learn how to take care of themselves and how to stay fit. Knowing your body, having a healthy lifestyle and finding forms of physical exercise that suit you will bring you joy and benefit throughout life.

A father’s wish

It is great that in many European school systems the opinions of parents are receiving more attention than before. Collaboration between the school and home has improved, thanks to better communication, for example. The school should not be an island separated from the rest of life and society; instead, it should be a living and well-functioning part of the community in which all parties – including the students – can have their say.

In addition to academic skills, children should learn practical skills for their everyday life, such as housekeeping, cooking, diverse handicraft skills, and first aid skills.

The school of the future should better cater for the individual needs of different types of learners, in particular, those belonging to often discriminated categories. Assessment should primarily be encouraging and affirming – never discouraging.

Most parents hope that their children will mature into stable, self-confident, empathetic, socially competent, active and happy young people who love to learn new things, are not afraid of challenges, and are eager and motivated to continue their studies on their own learning path after compulsory education.

What would you like your child to learn at school tomorrow?

About the author: Dr Kari Kivinen, the Head of the Franco-Finnish school in Helsinki and the former Secretary-General of the European School system, has 29 years of experience in international education as Teacher, Deputy Head, Head, and Deputy Secretary-General. He has worked in international schools in Finland, Luxembourg and Brussels. Blog: https://kivinen.wordpress.com/