It has long been acknowledged that education is the tool to dismantle ignorance and aid in providing holistic development. It has the potential to remedy, through learning and development, many of our social issues. Education is also the mechanism that drives economic growth. An education system that facilitates the labour productivity, skills formation and research that stimulate the development of diverse industries is critical to economic development.
Right now, the world is in the middle of a technological revolution: information technology industries have become key determinants of economic growth and international competitiveness, and as technologies drive development, countries must now adapt and leverage the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) to achieve sustainable development goals.
Over the past few months, the impact of covid19 has fuelled a sense of urgency to use 4IR technologies to provide services to improve the quality of life for citizens. New/improved products and services made possible through technology have enhanced our daily lives during the pandemic, increasing efficiency and convenience: buying a product, making a payment, listening to music, watching a movie, and playing a game are all activities that can now be carried out remotely. As for education, technology has played an integral role during national school closures in instructional delivery and in providing support to learners.
Around the world, technological breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, nanotechnology, biotechnology, quantum computing, self-driving vehicles and 3D printing are exponentially increasing efficiency and productivity, and ultimately transforming industries and reshaping systems of government, education, healthcare and commerce.
Due to automation supported by rapid technological advances, the skills demanded by the labour market continue to change. Yet, according to the World Bank, in most developing countries, the ability of workers to compete is stymied by the poor performance of education systems, while education systems that thrive are the ones that prepare children from early on, reform continuously, and utilise data for improvement and accountability.
Finland, a country rich in intellectual and education reform, ranks number one among the world’s education systems, having introduced several fundamental changes that have revolutionised the education system in its efforts to equip students to succeed in the modern world:
Reliance on highly competent, highly qualified and motivated educators, which essentially raises the bar on teaching quality (the minimum entry requirement into the teaching profession is a master’s degree, and teaching programmes are the most rigorous and selective professional schools in the country)
Focusing on early childhood education
Decentralising administration so that local schools have autonomy to address local needs
Providing free and equal education (including meals, uniforms, transportation, school materials) for all children
Implementing a curriculum that promotes instruction with an integrative approach, emphasising school culture as a conduit of core values and minimising standardised testing.
The Finnish core curriculum features transversal competence areas needed in all spheres of life – cultural competence, interaction and expression, multiliteracy, ICT competence, taking care of oneself and managing daily life, working life competence and entrepreneurship, participation, involvement and building a sustainable future. Its curriculum reform was influenced by a downward trend in students’ positive attitudes towards school and their sense of belonging, with the need to increase engagement and well-being as the leading factor in the development of education with regard to the goals of equality, equity and high-quality.
For this kind of reform to take place, research and consultation has to be done through transparency and extensive participation, and guided by future orientation with respect to the goals of curricula and an in-depth analysis of existing deficiencies, for example, determining whether the curriculum is hegemonic and embodies the interests of society’s most advantaged, or inadequate in addressing real-life competencies and developing soft skills (even more in demand because of the continuing importance of human interaction in the new economy of an automating world). For example, in TT, areas of critical thinking may be severely underdeveloped as general trends see a focus on excelling in examinations versus critical engagement with the subject matter.
In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2019, TT received a low score in critical thinking in teaching, ranking 107th out of 141 nations. Higher scores were evident in categories such as the quality of vocational training, digital skills among the active population and the skillset of graduates. For entrepreneurial culture, TT was ranked extremely low, with attitudes toward entrepreneurial risk, the growth of innovative companies and companies embracing disruptive ideas receiving the worst scores.
Yet among the goals outlined in our National Development Strategy 2016-2030 is a further revision of the school curriculum to emphasise “core values, nationalism and workforce readiness skills; and promote a fair system of education and training at all levels.”
For an education system to produce learners who benefit from holistic development, engage in disruptive thinking and participate in lifelong and life-wide learning, an important principle is to recognise that knowledge can be organised differently, like in Finnish educational thinking, to meet the challenges of a rapidly-changing world.
For example, life skills such as financial literacy, legal literacy and domestic literacy can be incorporated into the curriculum to prepare pupils for their real-life application. The implementation of civic engagement programmes and the heavy promotion of environmental awareness in schools will foster global citizenship and produce environmentally conscious citizens, who direct their thinking towards addressing global problems such as climate change and planning for sustainable models of living.
Not only that, offering more of the arts, technical and vocational training in equally advantageous professional options could lessen the dichotomy of university education versus trade-school or working class.
Values education deserves to be a structured interrogation of our more human components that are essential to interrogate, treating issues of identity, philosophy, social education, dealing with emotions, mental health and solutions to problems plaguing our school system like bullying and school violence.
And further developing ICTs is absolutely critical to prepare students for novel jobs and to train them to harness cutting-edge technologies with the potential to bring major social benefits. In countries like India, blockchain (decentralised ledger technology that guarantees secure peer-to-peer verification of information) is being implemented in land titling, supply chains and health records among an array of uses, making transactions tamper-proof and preventing corrupt practices.
Overall, our school culture should be one that functions as a collaborative learning community, concretising values such as the importance of sustainable development, the richness of diverse languages and cultures, the promotion of equity and equality, participation and democracy, and the priority of safety and well-being.
Innovation in education requires radical or incremental changes to educational processes while meeting the challenge of improving educational opportunities for those who remain underserved. TT’s Vision 2030 states that our “country will be one in which young people feel confident in their own ideas to seek out and create their own opportunities, engendered by an education system that encourages entrepreneurship and innovation, and prepares learners to take advantage of opportunities in a rapidly changing global environment.” Our investment in education must therefore reflect the innovation and dynamism we strive to instil in our students, so that they become globally-conscious citizens who contribute positively to society and country as a whole.